What are the consequences of long-term smartphone use during pandemic?
COVID-19 continues to create disruptions across all sectors of the globe. Where health is concerned, everyone’s focus is on maintaining social distance by being indoors. What remains unexplored during this time are the consequences of staying at home or working from home with significant use of digital technology. From children to elders, all are incredibly using smartphones and laptops to curb their boredom, stress, and anxiety along with meeting their educational and financial needs. While most research studies are focusing on the mental health of people and the digitalization of the world largely in the pandemic, one remains unnoticed that is the prevalent health effects of the change that came across as part of this new era of technology. It is well known that there is an increase in the screen time of people during lockdown along with the increase of smartphone use and the internet. While this rise is helpful to reduce the boredom in lockdown and helps people get engaged in some kind of leisure or productive work, it is likely to contribute to health issues. It is well established that excessive smartphone or computer use can lead to physiological complications such as headaches, eye complications, and different musculoskeletal complications. Screen-based activities for long interrupted hours can affect eyes. Research has shown that continuous use of computer or smartphones increase the risk of visual symptoms like dry eyes, tiredness of eyes, and eyestrain. All these problems are thought to cause because of blue light emitted from the screen, prolonged near-vision work, and impaired blink reflex. Research also found that excessive screen time is likely to contribute to the exacerbation of problems like digital eyestrain (computer vision syndrome) and myopia.
Body parts commonly involved in the use of smartphones are fingers, cervical, back, and shoulders, and thus these are the regions that are most affected when long-term use of mobile is recognized. While accessing the smartphones people usually flex their neck downwards maintaining their head in a forward position, which can cause upper crossed syndrome if been in the same position for a longer duration. Significant stress on the cervical spine because of excessive smartphone use might change the cervical curve. Previous studies have also found that those using smartphones excessively are likely to complain about neck pain (text neck), muscle fatigue, enlarged median nerve, thumb pain, thoracic and low back pain, and decreased power of handgrip and hand function. Additionally, the severity of the symptoms increases with the total time spent using digital devices. While children and adolescents are at the most risk of developing these difficulties, it applies to people of all ages in the present scenario where everyone is maintaining digital quarantine to fight the pandemic. Going digital is extremely important and there is no way one can deny the use of smartphones and computers/laptops to sustain the crisis. Thus, it becomes important and necessary to regulate the usage while adhering to healthy habits to prevent the health complications from further getting aggravated. Keeping your face 18 to 24 inches away from a digital screen, taking 20 seconds to break from near work every 20 minutes, using moderate brightness, exercising eyes, blinking more often are some of the strategies that help eye health. Also taking frequent breaks, varying the tilt of the head, using voice-activated apps to reduce typing work, switching hands, stretching fingers, wrists and forearms often can reduce the physical harm associated. While the focus here is to make aware of the physical effects caused by excessive screen time and foster prevention, the reduction of screen time will also in turn significantly decrease other health complications related to smartphone use. This will also help curb sleep disorders, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, neurological issues, and cyberbullying along with other psychological complications such as social isolation and addiction. Thus, regulation of screen time will globally help generations to keep physical and psychological health intact.
The world is already fighting a health crisis, let’s not make it more critical by adding on other potential health hazards. Health care practitioners thus need to study the situation and develop evidence-based prevention techniques to curb the rising problems. People should be made aware of the associated negative consequences of heavy digital use and encourage them to follow digital fasting. Educators and academicians should also consider the same while conducting and organizing online classes and homework so as not to incredibly increase the children's’ screen time in order to meet the educational requirements during the lockdown period. All health professionals should understand the seriousness of the growing usage of digital media and try to reach the population with a strong message of good digital health. Redirecting attention towards the safe use of technology during the COVID – 19 pandemic is the real requisite and hence needs to be given thought at the earliest.