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Texting While Walking Has Led to an Increase in Head and Neck Injuries: Study

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Dec 23, 2019

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Distraction caused by cell phones can lead to injuries such as scrapes and cuts to the face and head, bruising of the brain, internal injuries, and even death, researchers in the U.S. have found upon analyzing 20 years of emergency room data. It’s the first study to look at mobile phone-related injuries, a common but underreported phenomenon, other than those from texting while driving.

The study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology, highlights a “steep rise in these kinds of injuries,” among people aged 13 to 29, especially since 2007, the time around which smartphones were introduced.

These injuries, the authors said, could be classified as indirect — resulting, say, from tripping as one simultaneously texts and walks — or direct, that is, caused by the device itself, such as which might occur if someone throws a phone at someone else, drops their own phone on themselves, or if a phone’s battery explodes.

“Nobody in their right mind would ever read a book while they are walking, why would they read an entire article on the phone while they are walking?” Dr. Boris Pashkover, chief of facial plastics and reconstructive surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and co-author of the study, told The Guardian. But he added, “Everyone does it, everyone. I do it.”

Dr. Pashkover and colleagues analyzed data recorded in emergency departments from 100 U.S-based hospitals between January 1998 and December 2017. They found about 76,000 cases across all of the U.S. related to head and neck injuries caused by mobile phone use.


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A third of the injuries occurred in the head and neck area, and another third were facial injuries, including eyes, eyelids, and nose. More than 12% of injuries were to the neck. Around one-quarter of injuries were lacerations or a deep cut in the skin, and a similar amount of mobile phone-related injuries were contusions or abrasions. In 18% of cases, mobile phone use led to injuries to internal organs.

While treating cuts may not sound like a serious problem, the authors said it is an expensive procedure. Dr. Pashkover said many of the injuries were a result of distraction while walking, tripping, and landing facedown on the sidewalk. While most of these injuries didn’t result in hospitalization, the researchers say that shouldn’t diminish their seriousness.

Talking of case studies, Dr. Pashkover told The Guardian, “I have had a patient who was lying in bed looking at her phone, and it slipped out of her hand, hit her in the face, broke her nose.” He added that such injuries are common, especially among children under 13 years of age, since they play with mobile phones or may use phones to hit another person while fighting. In another case, Dr. Pashkover recounted a man being bit by a snake he walked on while crossing a carpark because he was looking at his phone.

Dr. Pashkover added “that the number of indirect phone-related injuries recorded in the latest study was probably an underestimate either because the injury was slight and people did not attend the emergency department, or because they do not report the cause of an injury due to embarrassment,” The Guardian reported.

Stressing on the importance of being aware of cell phone risks, not only while driving, Dr. Pashkover said, “A fall from upright — you can still die from that,” he said.

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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