Soaring rates of Americans hospitalized with cell phone injuries

Rates of cell phone injuries have TRIPLED since the first iPhone was released in 2007 – with thousands hospitalized after walking while texting, driving on the phone, and playing Pokemon Go!

  • More than 76,000 Americans were hospitalized with cell phone injuries from 1998-2016, researchers estimate 
  • Most patients had been distracted by their phone while walking or driving
  • Rates have been soaring since the release of the first iPhone in June 2007
  • In 2007, 9 people per 1 million sustained cell phone injuries
  • That figure tripled to 29 per 1 million people in 2016

The rate of Americans hospitalized with cell phone injuries has tripled in just 10 years, a new study has found.

Between 1998 and 2016, there were 2,501 cell-phone related ER visits recorded in a national database of 100 hospitals across the US.

Extrapolated nationwide, researchers estimate over 76,000 Americans have been to the ER in the same period for injuries suffered after walking and texting, driving while texting, playing Pokemon Go!, or being physically injured by a phone. 

But the bulk of cases have come more recently: in 2007, there were nine new cases per million people. In 2016, the figure tripled to 29 people per million. 

Researchers at Rutgers University Medical School, who compiled the data, warn the number is set to climb as more people get cell phones and become attached to them.

Rates have been soaring since the release of the first iPhone in June 2007. In 2007, there were nine new cases per million people. In 2016, the figure tripled to 29 people per million

‘As cell phones gain more influence, they also become potentially more hazardous,’ said corresponding author Dr Boris Paskhover, whose study was published today in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

‘Injuries resulting from cell phone use have long been reported largely in the context of driving-related incidents, but other mechanisms of injury have been under-reported.’ 

Based on the data, Dr Paskhover estimated that just over 14,000 Americans have suffered cell phone injuries due to distraction since 1998. 

Of those, around half (7,240) had been talking on the phone while driving, and 1,022 driving while texting.

They found 5,080 occurred while walking. At least 90 of those cases involved Pokémon Go!, a cell phone game which sends users looking for Pokemon in their own surroundings.

The vast majority of people injured by distraction (60 percent) were aged between 13 and 29 years old.  

Under-13s were far more likely (82 percent) to sustain a direct injury from a cell phone.

Ninety percent of cell phone injuries among over-65s occurred while they were walking and using their phone. 

Most patients were treated for head injuries (a third), and neck injuries (just under a third). 

A quarter of patients sustained cuts to the skin.

Almost a fifth involved damage to internal organs.

Dr Paskhover said: ‘Cell phone–related injuries to the head and neck have increased steeply over the recent 20-year period, with many cases resulting from distraction.

‘Although the disposition of most cases is simple, some injuries bear a risk of long-term complications.

‘Many of these injuries occurred among those aged 13 to 29 years and were associated with common activities, such as texting while walking.

‘These findings suggest a need for patient education about injury prevention and the dangers of activity while using these devices.’

About 96 percent of Americans own a cell phone – and head and neck traumas make up around five percent of emergency department visits.

The link between them could be of public health concern, in particular because of the psychological and financial burdens such injuries may entail, said the researchers.

Dr Paskhover said: ‘This period also coincides with the release of the first major successful smartphone in the US market, the iPhone.

‘Although mobile telephones were gaining popularity prior to that time point, their functions were limited, and they were therefore less likely to be major distractions when compared with modern-day smartphones.

‘Providing constant access to a variety of applications and internet browsers, these devices have become a necessary but potentially dangerous tool used by most people in the United States.’

He added: ‘Although most of these injuries are not severe, some bear a risk of long-term complications.

‘A large number occur among those aged 13 to 29 years and are related to common activities such as texting and walking.

‘These findings suggest an opportunity for injury prevention through patient education about the dangers of using a cell phone while performing other activities.’

Four years ago a UK study by National Accident Helpline found one in eight (13 percent) people have walked into someone or something while checking their mobile phone.

This figure rises to 43 percent for younger generations. And the problems don’t only occur only when people are walking around.

Some six in 10 young people have managed to drop their phone on their face while reading lying down. 

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