4 Ways Your Smartphone Is Hurting Your Health

Hardly a month goes by these days without a new study revealing that smartphones are either A) ruining your life, or B) not.

We’ve all heard about the potential link between cellphone use and brain tumors. And though the research is still inconclusive, studies showing them to be completely safe tend to be less rigorously designed and funded by the cellphone industry, whereas studies finding risks are produced with better science and have no financial conflicts of interest.

What’s more, I’ve recently seen research linking cellphone radiation to sleep disturbance, behavorial changes in kids, and reduced sperm count and erectile dysfunction in men who carry their phones in their front pocket. Again, these were small studies, easy to dismiss, but one thing is clear: Cellphone radiation isn't making us any healthier. You can minimize the danger with a few simple steps:

* Don’t make your phone strain for a signal, which increases the amount of radio-frequency radiation it’s pumping out. Wait for four bars, or don’t make the call.
* Spend less time talking, and more time texting. The farther the phone is away from your body, the better.
* Use a wireless headset or the speakerphone, which puts it at a safer distance.
* Point the number pad toward your body if you store the phone in your pocket; the radiation is emitted from the back of the phone, so you can broadcast more of it away from your precious bodily tissues.

Recently, House democrat Dennis Kucinich introduced a bill that would, among other things, fund more exhaustive studies and—in the meantime—require warning labels on cellphone packaging. Still, don’t wait for an act of Congress before you start looking suspiciously at your smartphone. The radiation dangers aside, here are four other (scientifically proven!) ways it’s messing with your health.

1. Your Cellphone Is ... Destroying Your Ability to Focus

You don’t own your phone—it owns you. Researchers in Finland found that most people obsessively check their menu screen, news, e-mail, and apps, even though the likelihood of seeing new and interesting information keeps decreasing. “The more you do it, the less you gain,” says study author Antti Oulasvirta, Ph.D.

Your move: Oulasvirta recommends setting specific times to touch base with your touchscreen, such as on the hour—or half hour if the withdrawal is too much.

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2. Your Cellphone Is ... Making You Sick

All that tapping, typing, and swiping may make your touchscreen as germy as your computer keyboard, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. “We found that about 20 percent to 30 percent of viruses on a glass surface similar to a smartphone screen will transfer to your fingertips,” says study author Tim Julian, Ph.D. And it’s a short trip from there to your mouth or eyes.

Your move: If your phone has Gorilla Glass (many do, including the iPhone) and it’s not coated to resist fingerprints or glare, you can safely clean the screen with a disinfecting wipe, like Clorox’s. Also avoid texting and crying, so you have no reason to wipe your eyes.

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3. Your Cellphone Is ... Hurting Your Eyes

The combination of holding your phone too close and staring at a sadistically small font can lead to eye strain, headaches, dry eye, and blurred vision, according to research from the SUNY State College of Optometry.

Your move: Increase the font size to twice the smallest size you’re able to read, says study author Mark Rosenfield, O.D., Ph.D., and maintain a distance of at least 16 inches between the screen and your eyes. If you’re reading for longer than a few minutes, take regular 20-second breaks.

4. Your Cellphone Is ... Causing You Stress

You bought your phone so you’d be accessible 24-7, but now you never seem to have time to unwind. Why? Because you’re never unreachable, you’re constantly expecting to be reached. In fact, a University of Worcester study showed that this constant stress can actually trick people into believing that their phone vibrated from a new text or e-mail even when no messages came in.

Your move: Start by shutting off your phone for an hour every day, and slowly work your way up to 2-hour breaks. And, no, while you’re sleeping doesn’t count.

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Additional writing and research by Margaret Niemiec

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