Does The Smartphone Really Make Us Sick?

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Rays that damage fertility or bright display light that damages the eyes: Numerous health myths surround the smartphone. A quick check of the seven most common claims.

A small device has revolutionized the everyday life of Germans. The smartphone has been on the rise for a good ten years. Eight in ten people in Germany now use it. 57 million users in Germany, according to an estimate of the industry association Bitkom. Technology has long since conquered the  country - but many people are unsure.

You ask yourself: What does the smartphone do with our health? Can it actually addict or even cause cancer? Seven health myths about smartphone in check.

1: Smartphones Can Be Addictive.

Right. "With the arrival of the smartphone, the online addiction has received a new dynamic," says addict Bert te Wildt, chief physician of the Psychosomatic Clinic Kloster Dießen near Munich. In particular, the dependence on social media has increased by the smartphone. "If in the morning the first glance at the cell phone and in the evening also the last one, then concerned ones must ask themselves: Does this equipment still serve me, or do I serve it?"

Around one percent of the population in Germany is already considered internet-dependent. Especially young people are affected: In the age group of 14 to 24 years, 2.4 percent of women and 2.5 percent of men show an addictive behavior. This is the result of the so-called Pinta study, which was carried out on behalf of the Federal Government by the Lübeck psychologist Hans-Jürgen Rumpf.

In doing so, Rumpf observes a gender difference: while young men are vulnerable to online games and pornography, young women tend to be more into social media addiction. "And this addiction is primarily satisfied via the smartphone," says te Wildt.

He recommends controlling his own use: "It makes sense to think about times, spaces and situations in which the smartphone is off. That can be with food or an hour before bedtime.

2: Claim: Using a Smartphone Can Hurt Your Back and Hands.

Right. "Smartphones combine display and keyboard. This unit makes it impossible to find a posture that is optimal for all body areas at the same time, "says Patricia Tegtmeier of the Federal Institute for  Occupational Safety and Health. With her team, she has evaluated 41 studies from the years 2007 to 2016 and came to the conclusion: "If the smartphone is used very intensively and continuously, the risk for musculoskeletal disorders can increase." In addition to neck tension by a curved Posture is a quick, repeated tapping on small displays an increased risk of tendonitis on the wrists and in the thumb.

Four years ago, a study published in the journal "The Lancet" by Granada University Hospital reported on a Spanish patient who after six hours of mobile phone tapping had to be treated with tendonitis on both thumbs. At that time the doctors spoke of a new illness, the WhatsAppitis.

Touchscreen devices are basically useful for a short usage. But if you want to type longer texts, you should use an external keyboard, "says Tegtmeier. She also recommends changing the posture frequently. "Instead of holding the smartphone in one hand, you can use both hands.

3: Statement: The Blue Light of The Smartphone Can Damage The Eye's Retina and Even Lead To Blindness.

Moot. In July, a contribution in the journal "Scientific Reports" received much attention. A team from the University of Toledo in the US wanted to find that the blue in the display light of smartphones and computers can cause blindness. The short-wave light stimulates the production of toxic molecules in the light-sensitive cells of the eye, according to the researchers.

This assessment is very controversial. The European Commission's Health Sciences Scientific Committee said in June, "Studies show that the light intensity of LED displays installed in televisions, laptops, telephones, tablets or toys is less than 10 percent of the maximum intensity that is associated with Protection of the retina has been defined. That is, it does not pose a risk to the eyes during normal use.

Ljiljana Udovicic from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health comes to the same assessment. Researchers have exposed rats to very high light intensities of up to 30,000 lux for various studies that assume the harmful effects of blue light, she says. "I think that's way too high, because in a normal office environment we measure about 250 lux on the eye," says Udovicic. "I do not know of any scientific evidence that would tell us that the light from VDUs causes retinal damage.

4. Assertion: If You Look at The Smartphone For a Long Time, You Fall Asleep Worse.

Right. Many people grab their cell phone just before going to sleep. They check e-mails, read messages or skype with the partner. Scientists advise against it. Because even if the blue component in the light of the smartphone display should not cause damage to the retina, but it disturbs the sleep.

"It can be shown that there is a suppression of the hormone melatonin," says Udovicic. And that's a problem: melatonin makes us tired in the evening, usually the hormone is released in the dark. But the bright light of the smartphone signals to the body exactly the opposite: it is day, stay awake!

For those who do not want to go without their mobile phones and still want to sleep better, Udovicic has a tip: "It is recommended to switch on the night mode of the smartphone." Some devices offer the possibility to reduce the proportion of blue light and thus the melatonin distribution to endanger.

5. Statement: The Electromagnetic Radiation Of Smartphones Can Cause Cancer.

Not true according to previous findings. But there is a residual risk. A court ruling in Italy caused a stir in April. A man was awarded pain and suffering because in his head a brain tumor had grown. The judges rated the cancer and its consequences as an occupational disease - the man had phoned his employer for several hours a day by mobile phone.

Can cell phone radiation therefore be considered carcinogenic? "No," says Gunde Ziegelberger from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS). "We have no evidence that using the smartphone in compliance with international limits could cause cancer." Although studies have not yet been able to provide complete certainty because tumors developed over a long period of time. "But every year we see no increase in disease, we get more certainty."

The largest long-term study to date, "Interphone" with more than 12,000 participants, came to the conclusion in 2010 that the average use of the cell phone does not pose an increased risk of tumors for adults. However, critics objected to technical errors of the international project.

Another long-term study has therefore already begun: Within the framework of the so-called Cosmos study, 290,000 mobile phone users in five European countries have been undergoing medical check-ups for eleven years. First results are still pending.

Because of the remaining uncertainty regarding long-term use, Ziegelberger recommends keeping the  phone as seldom as possible directly to the head. A headset or the speaker function are good alternatives. In addition, pay attention to the quality of the connection. "If the reception is good, then the base station downs the transmission power of the cell phone by a thousandfold, and the radiation exposure decreases."

6. Claim: Even The Wireless Operation Of a Smartphone Can Cause Harmful Radiation

Not true according to previous findings. A study commissioned by the BfS came in 2005 to the conclusion that the radiation exposure of wireless devices is less than 0.1 percent of the EU limit. Even in the immediate vicinity of the body no radiation can be measured in the health-damaging area.

The transmission power of WLAN is very low, it is in the milliwatt range," explains Ziegelberger. For comparison: A single antenna of a mobile radio transmitter sends at maximum load with up to 50 watts, a smartphone comes to about one watt.

7. Claim: A Cell Phone In Your Pocket Can Reduce Fertility In Men.

Not true according to previous findings. Where is the smartphone always at hand? Right, in your pocket. That's why many men keep the phone near their genitals. There is a widespread claim that the technique can influence sperm production and fertility.

It is true that the testicles as well as the eyes belong to the temperature-sensitive parts of the body. If they get too warm in the long term, that bothers their function. "Sperm formation is demonstrably suppressed by a temperature increase of more than one degree," says Ziegelberger. However, the heat of the cell phone battery or the radiation energy for this effect are not sufficient.

"Even if you hold the phone directly to the testicles, the temperature increase is not sufficient to influence sperm formation," says Ziegelberger. A study commissioned by the BfS showed at a distance of one centimeter a radiation-induced warming of the testes by less than 0.01 degrees.

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