The health risks of new technologies

The increasingly widespread use of new technologies has unfortunately had some negative impacts on our health, especially when they are overused. From texting-related thumb pain to sleep disturbances and even addiction, here are a few conditions caused by today’s technology, and some tips on how to avoid them. 

Thumb, wrist and elbow pain

Formerly the bane of factory workers and athletes, repetitive motion injuries are becoming very common among people who text a lot (thumb pain) or who spend all day typing at a keyboard (wrist, elbow or shoulder pain). Bad posture is usually the culprit. With computer-related problems, ensure that the office setup (chair, keyboard and screen) is arranged ergonomically, in order to avoid placing prolonged stress on your muscles and tendons. You should also take regular breaks and take the opportunity to perform a few stretches.

Other than completely taking a break from texting, if you want to prevent a painful episode of “texting thumb,” your best bet is to slow down your writing speed and to try to alternate which fingers you use (switching between your thumbs and indexes, for example).

Sleep disturbances

Using a tablet or smartphone in bed is an increasingly widespread cause of sleep disturbances. Using these devices at bedtime is problematic for several reasons. First, the actual browsing stimulates your brain, preventing it from entering rest mode. In addition, the artificial light emitted by the screens stops your brain from producing melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in triggering sleep. Lastly, using these devices often delays bedtime, and over time the body begins to adjust its internal clock to this later bedtime. It then becomes harder and harder to go back to a “normal” bedtime.

What can you do about it? The golden rule is to ban all technological devices from the bedroom, including televisions! Next, implement a bedtime routine: at least one hour before going to bed, stop all stimulating activities, opting instead for sleep-inducing activities such as taking a warm bath or shower, reading, or listening to soothing music. Dim the lights in the bedroom, and turn them off as soon as you start getting drowsy. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t lie in bed for more than 20 minutes. Instead, sit up in bed and wait until you get sleepy again (e.g. while listening to music or reading). People who stubbornly wait for sleep to come are at higher risk of developing long-lasting sleep problems.

Computer vision syndrome

Computer vision syndrome is common in people who stare at a screen for hours on end, especially a computer or tablet screen. This ocular fatigue can be accompanied by headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck or shoulder pain. Other factors can sometimes aggravate the symptoms, for example poor lighting, bad posture, and wearing no eyeglasses or an outdated prescription to correct a vision problem.

In order to avoid ocular fatigue, make sure you have proper lighting in the room, and that the light is not causing any glare on the screen. Make sure the screen is at eye level, so that you have a natural head, neck and shoulder position. Take regular breaks, following the 20-20-20 rule: approximately every 20 minutes, look at an object that is at least 20 feet (7 m) away for at least 20 seconds.

If your dry eyes are causing you discomfort, you can use artificial tears. Ask your pharmacist to help you choose the ones best suited for you. Lastly, if you wear corrective lenses, make sure to get your eyes tested regularly, to make sure your vision hasn’t changed. An incorrect eyewear prescription is an often overlooked cause of headaches.

Nomophobia

Nomophobia is defined as withdrawal symptoms that arise when a person is out of mobile phone contact. For most of us, forgetting our phone at home is just a minor frustration, but for some people, it can cause a major anxiety attack. When individuals have this type of reaction, they may want to discuss the matter with a psychologist, because they may suffer from an anxiety disorder and could benefit from professional advice.

Internet or online gaming addictions

There’s nothing unusual about spending a few hours in the evening surfing the Web or playing League of Legends. But when people spend so much time online that it has a negative impact on their daily life, it can be considered an addiction. This type of addiction is rare, but it requires an intervention by a healthcare professional, because it is often associated with underlying problems such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

Cyberchondria

The human body is an amazing machine that does its work very well most of the time. Sometimes, however, it has little problems to deal with and those can manifest as various symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms are harmless and will go away on their own. Given the millions of pages of medical information available online, many of which are not written by health professionals, it can become easy to think that your headache is symptomatic of a brain tumour… rather than just a result of fatigue! Cyberchondria is basically hypochondria 2.0, in other words the tendency to think that symptoms cannot be benign, that they must be a sign of a serious illness. The best way to avoid this trap is to speak to a health professional (your doctor or pharmacist) about your symptoms, rather than looking on the Internet. Your pharmacist is easy to reach and can help you determine whether or not you should take an appointment to see your doctor.

New technologies have improved our lives, but they are not without their harmful effects. If you or your loved ones have an unhealthy relationship with your smart devices, it might be time to speak to someone about it!

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