Distraction Is a Leading Cause of Cell Phone-Related Head and Neck Injuries

Cell phone-related head and neck injury rates have increased steadily over the last 2 decades, according to a cross-sectional study published in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. A steep increase in these injuries began in 2007 (the year the first iPhone was released) with 8.99 new cases per 1 million person-years and increasing to a high of 29.19 new cases per 1 million person-years in 2016.

Distraction while driving, walking, or texting was a leading cause of cellphone-related head and neck injuries, particularly among individuals aged 13 to 29 years.

texting and cell phone use leads to distracted walking and injuryCell phone use while walking, driving and texting causes distractions resulting in head and neck injuries. Photo Source: iStock.com.

“More patients are getting injured due to the fact that they are using their phones during daily activities and not paying attention to their surroundings,” said senior author Boris Paskhover, MD, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ. “Physicians need to let their patients know that distracted activities in and outside the house put you at risk for trips, slips, and falls, which can have other consequences.”

Nationwide Database Evaluated

The findings are based on a sample of 2,501 reported cases of cell phone-related head and neck injuries that occurred between January 1998 and December 2017. The cases were recorded in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database, which collects emergency room data from approximately 100 US hospitals. Injuries were more likely among patients who were aged 13 to 29 years (38%), women (55%), and white (39%). The total estimated weighted number of events nationwide was 76,043.

This study is the first to investigate the role of cell phones and cell phone–related distractions in injuries to the head and neck, according to the researchers.

Most Common Cell-Phone Related Injuries

Injuries most commonly occurred to the head (33.1% of the estimated nationwide weighted total); the face, including the eyelid, eye area, and nose (32.7%); and the neck (12.5%). The most common injury diagnoses were laceration (26.3% of the estimated weighted total), contusion/abrasion (24.5%), and internal organ injury (18.4%), which most commonly involved traumatic brain injury.

Distraction while driving, walking, and texting was responsible for 14,150 estimated weighted cases of cell phone-related head and neck injuries (Table), and most commonly occurred in individuals aged 13 to 29 years (60%).

Table: Causes of Distraction-Related Cell Phone Injuries to the Head and NeckTable: Causes of Distraction-Related Cell Phone Injuries to the Head and Neck. Source: Povolotskiy R, et al. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Dec 5. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2019.3678. [Epub ahead of print]

Thus, educating patient on safe use of cell phones and the risk of distracted behavior is needed to prevent these injuries, as many cases resulted from distraction, the study researchers noted.

Dr. Paskhover has no relevant disclosures.

Updated on: 12/11/19
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