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House Calls / Dr. Michael Schwartz

Published 9:50 am, Monday, July 28, 2014
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As I was backing out of a spot in a parking garage at a local mall, I saw a young child run behind my car. I abruptly stopped as the child ran to a car eagerly waiting for someone to unlock the door. At first, I did not see an adult with the child and became concerned. However, a few moments later, her mother appeared, talking on her cellphone and completely oblivious to the fact that her daughter almost got hit by my car. When I said to the woman, "I almost hit your child," her only response was "oops."

Since this incident, I have become more cognizant and observant of people using their mobile devices throughout my day. I have seen a person walk into a telephone pole while reading a mobile device and another trip over the curve when texting. I also witnessed a young woman cross the street against the light and almost get hit by a car while she talked on her phone.

This "epidemic" of injuries caused by people distracted by their cellphones and smart devices is rising across the country at an alarming rate. In some cases it is costing people their lives. It is now estimated that 26 percent of all automobile accidents are caused by distracted drivers either while texting or talking on their phone.

Furthermore, it is estimated that more than 2 million injuries occur per year from distracted walking. Indeed, an online search revealed many examples of such injuries, including a person on the phone falling onto the train tracks in Philadelphia, a mall shopper walking directly into a fountain while texting and an individual almost bumping into a black bear on the loose in a neighborhood in California.

A review of the literature suggests that as many as 10 percent of trauma visits to emergency rooms today are a result of texting.

Furthermore, the rate of injuries related to texting has more than tripled since 2004, specifically in the 16 to 25 age group. In addition to serious injuries, there are additional unforeseen risks associated with texting such as tendonitis of the hands and thumbs (now referred to as "texting thumb"), not to mention eye strain and neck tightness from the constant use of the device.

In an age of exciting technology and advancement in social media, it is extremely disturbing that such technology has resulted in what appears to be a new addictive disorder with harmful "side effects." Some people cannot seem to spend a moment not speaking on their phone, texting or reading an email. Next time you go for a walk, spend time in a park, go out to dinner or are at work, take notice of the number of people glancing at their smart device. It is now more common to see people at dinner looking at their phones and not speaking to the person next to them.

Amazingly, even during examinations in my office, patients will frequently jump off the exam table to answer their phone or look at a text that arrived.

Admittedly, I too am

guilty of using my phone during a night out for dinner or during a television program at home. It is only when I took a moment to step back and observe my surroundings that I noticed how common it was.

It appears that people cannot be without this technology, even for a moment.

Injuries can be reduced if people would follow a few common-sense rules.

While driving, put the phone away and out of sight. Turn the phone to the mute setting. If a call does come in or you need to make a call, always use the hands-free device in your car. However, young and/or inexperienced drivers should never use any device while driving, including hands-free.

Never text while walking. Even a few seconds of distraction can increase your risk of injury by more than 200 percent. Put the phone away until you are able to safely use your device.

While talking on your cellphone, simply stop and move out of the way of others until your call is completed. Some studies suggest that even a few seconds of distraction can result in injury or death.

Keep an eye on your children, not your smart device!

Turn off your phone at the doctor's office, during important meetings and at the dinner table. The distraction can affect your physical and psychological health, not to mention how it may be perceived by others around you.

Remember, even a momentary distraction such as texting, speaking on the cellphone and sending emails can put you and others at risk of serious injury. Obviously, nothing is that important that it cannot wait until you can safely use your device.

Do your part to help. Pay attention to your surroundings and hang up your phone.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his website at www.drmichaelbschwartz.com.