Cathode crisis

A growing industry of cellphones and TVs is flooding a screen-addicted generation with choices, making them dangerously prone to lifestyle diseases and disorders  By Anu Jain Rohatgi

Published: 20th May 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st May 2017 07:36 AM   |  A+A-

Vivek is 12 years old. He loves video games and WhatsApp, and spends four to five hours a day squinting into screens. Initially, he felt a slight numbness in his right arm, and gradually started finding it difficult to hold a pen. After a month of bearing the pain, he told his parents.

“When we diagnosed Vivek, we found that he was suffering from carpet tunnel syndrome,” says Dr Maninder, orthopaedic surgeon at Indian Spinal Injury Centre in Delhi.

Vivek’s treatment comprised zero medication, exercises and a complete lifestyle change. He was forbidden using a cellphone for a month. The following month, he was allowed to play games on his phone for 30 minutes a day with breaks. It took him three months to recover.

Thirteen-year-old Raju stopped going out to play with his friends. He started avoiding school and was being bullied for being overweight.In two years, he gained 25 kg, and started frequenting the washroom. 

His appetite increased three-fold and he was constantly irritable. When doctors examined him, his blood sugar level was sky high. His weight was 113 kg with a BMI of 36.1 kg/m2, his waist was 43 inches, he had acathosis nigricans on his neck (blackish discolouration of skin), and his postprandial (random) blood glucose was 578 mg/dl (ideal is under 140 mg/dl). 

Raju had Type 2 diabetes.
Watching wrestling and cricket on TV for four to five hours everyday was his regular pastime, besides being glued to his cellphone. He never went out to play, and drank four to five sweetened carbonated drinks with fast food each day. “Though he reported to hospital at a very late stage, immediate medical care helped him improve his condition,” says Dr Anoop Mishra, chairman, Fortis Hospital, Delhi.

Neha works in a leading MNC in Gurgaon. Her work requires her to sit for seven to eight hours at a stretch with her laptop. Gradually, her neck and shoulders began to ache, and her arms started going numb. The pain spread to her legs, making it difficult for her to walk. When the pain wouldn’t let her type, she headed to a doctor. She was diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome and severe neck and shoulder muscles problems. 

The delay in seeking treatment forced Neha to undergo surgery to cut the transverse carpal ligament to release pressure on the median nerve, relieving the symptoms. The small incisions in the palm stitched up. “After surgery, medication and exercise, Neha is much better,” says Dr H S Chhabra, Medical Director at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, Delhi.

Rahul is 24, and spends a lot of time at his work station. While cleaning his house one day, he felt a sharp pain flash across his lower back. He collapsed, and couldn’t move for hours. It was a slipped disc, brought on by his long hours and poor posture before a computer screen.

According to experts, over time the stress poor posture places on the spine can lead to anatomical changes in its structure. This in turn can provoke back pain through the constriction of blood vessels and nerves. It can also cause major problems with muscles, discs and joints.

An increasing number of teens and youth suffering from back/neck/shoulder problems, bad postures , carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, psychological problems, headache, dry eyes and hearing loss is the direct outcome of excess time spent staring into screens. Studies indicate that spending more time on screen leads to problems of the heart, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, liver issues and Type 2 diabetes.

“The main cause for these ailments is lack of exercise and spending too many hours in front of computers and laptops. Sitting for hours at one place causes immobility of muscles and joints, and leads to stiffness and back problems. Over the years it has been observed that more and more young executives who work 8-10 hours continuously on their computers and laptops, are showing  symptoms of neck pain, upper back and lower back pain,” says Dr Chhabra.

A recent study conducted in the UK revealed that children who watch TV or use smartphones or tablets for more than three hours a day may be at a higher risk of developing diabetes. 

Medical school St. George’s, University of London, assessed 4,500 children aged 9-10 years from 200 primary schools in the UK for a series of metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors.

Tests included blood fats, insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose levels, inflammatory chemicals, blood pressure and body fat. For children who looked at screens for over three hours a day, the levels were higher than those who spent less than an hour of screen time.

Every hour spent in front of a TV raises chances of diabetes by 3.4 per cent, the study found, and that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing Type 2 diabetes.

“Children’s lifestyle is their worst enemy. Those who have Type 2 diabetes prefer indoor games instead of outdoor ones. TVs, computers and mobile phones are their best friends. They spend over three to four hours in front of the TV, eating junk food. They don’t exercise. A combination of all this is leading to diabetes at a very young age,” says Dr Mishra. 

He adds that due to their sedentary lifestyle, children aged nine and 10 start gaining weight and their blood sugar rises. “Pancreas start producing excess insulin to convert excess sugar into energy. Due to this, blood sugar level in children remains normal, but the insulin level is high.

This is the pre-diabetic stage, and there are chances of children becoming diabetic later. Initially, the pancreas make more insulin to push glucose into cells, but are eventually unable to continue, which ultimately leads to Type 2 diabetes,” Dr Mishra explains.

Diabetes expert Dr A K Jhingan says when children watch TV or play games in continuity, brain cells don’t get enough rest and start producing stress hormones such as cortisol, which increases sugar levels in the blood stream. “Memories of a movie, cartoon or video games being watched or played by children remain up to three hours in the brain and make the cells restless for longer period,” says he.

Dr Chabbra explains that “earlier, medication, physiotherapy, gel therapy and lifestyle changes worked very quickly, but today the number of young patients is increasing, who do not respond to the above treatment and require surgery at a very young age”.

Children also have neck and back problems as they spend long periods looking down into their smartphones, making their shoulders bear down on their spines. 

A study has revealed that children who spend more than 30 minutes on their iPads in one sitting could be sowing the seeds for chronic neck and back pain later in life. Doctors say hunching over electronic devices at a young age can lead to musculoskeletal issues in adulthood and to carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. 

“A 10-time spike has been observed among children aged between 11-16 in the last few years,” says Dr Maninder, an orthopaedic surgeon at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, Delhi.

Another problem ailing children is tendinitis, which stems from overuse of the thumb by typing continuously on a cellphone and playing video games. “Due to overuse of the thumb, its muscles swell and cause pain,” explains Dr Maninder. In 10 per cent of cases, surgery is required. 

Working late into the night on computers and laptops stops or slows down production of melatonin hormones, responsible for good sleep and a protection against diseases, especially cancers. Melatonin strengthens the immune system and slows down cellular aging.

“Blue wavelength light emitted by computers, TVs and cellphones suppresses melatonin levels and causes sleep disorders. It also contributes to chronic health problems such as obesity and diabetes, affects the immune system and increases the risk of cancer,” says Dr Shreekant Sharma , Senior Medicine Consultant at Moolchand Hospital, Delhi.

“Children and adults who spend more and more time on screen suffer psychological disorders,”  says Dr Rajesh Sagar, Professor, Psychiatry at AIIMS, Delhi. “More children and teens are reporting stress, anxiety and other problems. Their performance in schools is not appropriate. Children are becoming more aggressive and violent because of much more exposure to violent games. Most of the 
time they are not able to control their emotions.”

Studies have proved the link between excess mobile phone use that causes sperm DNA damage. “In 40 per cent of couples with infertility, sperm count of the male is low. We advise them to minimise use of cellphones and not keep them in their trousers,” adds Dr Sharma.

Continuous TV watching or working on computers causes dry eyes. “Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen or TV stresses the eyes. This can put children at an even greater risk than adults for developing symptoms of computer vision syndrome,” says Dr S N Jha, Senior Consultant, Ophthalmology, Sir Gangaram Hospital, Delhi.

Listening to music on smartphones leads to hearing problems not just because of the high volume but due to electromagnetic waves emitted from the device.

“Earlier, we used to have patients who worked in noisy factories, or elderly patients who suffered hearing loss. Over the years, the scenario has changed completely. Now more and more young people between the age of 20-40 are coming with the acute hearing loss problem. They are the ones who spend a lot of time on their mobile phones listening to loud music,” said Dr Kalpana Nagpal, ENT specialist at Apollo Hospital, Delhi.

In a study conducted by the Department of Otolaryngology at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, researchers assessed and compared the changes to the central auditory pathway and the inner ear that resulted from exposure to electromagnetic waves from mobile phones. Using a battery of tests, the hearing function of 125 regular cellphone users for at least one year was compared with the hearing function of 58 people who had never used cellphones. Results showed long-term cellphone users had significantly more hearing loss than non-cellphone users.

Pregnant women using cellphones leads to their newborns having hyperactive problems. A team of researchers examined 83,884 mother-children pairs from Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Norway, and found children aged five to seven had a 28 per cent increased risk of being hyperactive whose mothers used their mobile phones four times a day while they were pregnant. A study also said children whose mothers never used a mobile phone while pregnant have the lowest risk of behavioural or emotional problems.

In a study, pregnant rats were exposed to mobile phones for 15 minutes twice a day. When they delivered, the number of ovarian follicles in the newborns was lesser than in those whose mothers had not been exposed to cellphones.

Continuous TV watching or working on computers also causes dry eyes. “Every second young patient coming to our OPDs is suffering from dry eyes, irritation and redness of eyes. The only reason for this is that they spend too much times watching screens,” says Dr Jha.

Another problem haunting youngsters today is hallucinating about their phone ringing; especially people who spend a lot of time on cellphones. “Our mind becomes habitual of hearing a phone ring every minute or at short intervals, and when it doesn’t, we start imagining that it is ringing,” says Dr Nagpal. 

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Michigan, the US, have discovered that watching a lot of TV causes influenza and pneumonia. “People who watched between three and four hours of TV a day were 15 per cent more likely to die from a common cause of death, compared to those who watched less than one hour a day, who died naturally,” the study said. Watching seven hours of TV a day left a person 47 per cent more likely to die of the above illnesses.

Nowadays, computers, video games, TVs and smartphones have become a necessity. Modern technology eases our work pressure and has improved communication, is helpful in gathering information and in making us more knowledgeable, but its flip side is that overuse of technology is making us sick, isolated, aggressive and depressive. It is making us prone and victims of many diseases, some of which are fatal.

So lose weight, gain a life, eat right, exercise and stay away from those screens to live healthier and longer.

More time on screen leads to relationship problems. Children get addicted to gadgets, avoid friends, relatives and parents when they are hooked to a screen. A study says family members turn to television to escape stress. It found a distinct correlation between the amount of television parents watched and stressful occurrences they experienced. Children also demonstrated a proclivity to watch TV to cut anxieties. 

Research shows watching TV causes language delays, 
which occur when a child shuns social interaction. Children learn language best from live interaction with parents and others. Learning disabilities from over-watching TV include Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, concentration problems and low IQ. Children who watch too much TV can have difficulties starting school because they aren’t interested in their teachers.

When a person plays video games or watches TV, a part of the brain becomes 
very active and releases dopamine. Scientists believe high amounts of dopamine 
reduces the neurotransmitter available for control of movement, perception of pain and pleasure, and formation of feelings. Research shows that playing violent computer games and high game time may cause aggression in some children and negatively affect his/her school work. Although computer and video games are fun and offer benefits such as improved spatial awareness, parents should keep in mind that moderation is important.


Muscles and tendons can become painful with repetitive movements and awkward postures. This is known as ‘overuse injury’ and occurs in elbows, wrists or hands of computer users. Symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness of joints, weakness and numbness. How to prevent it
■ Place your mouse at the same height as your keyboard next to it
■ Use your arm, not just your wrist, when using the mouse
■ Type lightly and gently
■ Mix your tasks to avoid long stretches on computer
■ Remove your hands from the keyboard when not typing, to relax your arms


Back and neck pain, headache, and shoulder and arm pain are common computer-related injuries. Such muscle and joint problems can be caused or made worse by poor workstation (desk) design, bad posture and sitting for long periods.

Although sitting requires less muscular effort than standing, it causes physical fatigue (tiredness) and requires you to hold your body steady for long periods. This reduces blood circulation to the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, leading to stiffness and pain. If a workstation is not set up properly, these steady positions can put greater stress on your muscles and joints.


Focusing on a particular object from a certain distance for long periods of time causes fatigue. The eye prefers to look at objects more than six metres away, so close-up puts extra 
demands on eye muscles.

■ Ensure your main source of light (such as a window) is not shining into your face or directly onto the computer screen
■ Tilt the screen to avoid reflections or glare
■ Ensure the screen is not too close to your face
■ Place the screen at eye level or slightly lower
■ Reduce the screen contrast and brightness
■ Look away from the screen frequently and focus on distant objects
■ Get your eyes checked regularly to know 
that blurring, headaches and other associated problems are not caused by any underlying disorders

Tips to Follow while playing video games, watching TV, working on computers
■ Don’t sit for long, keep changing your posture, stretch your arms, legs and shoulders, and take a 
little walk
■ Sit straight
■ Keep your wrist in a natural position while working on a computer or talking on phone
■ Use your palm, not just your fingers, to hold objects
■ Keep your wrists straight while typing and hands a little higher than your wrists. Relax your shoulders when your arms are at your sides.
■ Maintain a good distance when 
watching TV
■ Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It helps prevent eye strain and potential vision problems.
■ Use eye lubricants and blink more when watching a screen
■ Avoid eating while watching TV or playing

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