Smartphone Use May Worsen Headache Symptoms: Study
Thu, February 2, 2023

Smartphone Use May Worsen Headache Symptoms: Study


Previous studies have shown that mobile phone use can cause headaches, migraines, and other symptoms, including neck pain, eye strain, dizziness, and more. There are several factors behind why it happens, such as looking at the light of the screen, maintaining a stooped posture, and straining your eyes for a long period.


Smartphone usage contributing to the headache

A new study conducted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences in India has revealed that people who suffer from headaches are also more likely to take pain medication if they are also using a smartphone. The researchers studied 400 people who already had a primary headache condition, including tension headaches, migraines, or other types of headaches not caused by another illness. They then asked the participants about their mobile phone usage, medication use, and headache history.

The team found that smartphone users find less relief compared to people who did not use their smartphones. Study author Dr. Deepti Vibha, who is also the associate neurology professor at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said via American media company CNN Heath that the associations they found in their research consider the possibility that smartphone usage could be a potential trigger that makes a person’s headache worse. Also, there may be unexplored mechanisms that future studies could unravel.

The study, which was published by the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice, does not particularly conclude that smartphone usage cause headaches. Instead, it questions the health effects of using smartphones as more people have become more reliant on the technology in fulfilling their daily tasks.



Pain and smartphones: studying the connection between the two

During their experiment, the team divided the participants into two groups. The first group did not use a device or they only had to call features in their device and the second group used smartphones. The study participants likewise answered questionnaires to assess the history of their symptoms and smartphone usage. Researchers compared the results of the two groups and found that 96% of those who use smartphones were more likely to take pain-relieving medicines.

The study also found that despite taking medication, smartphone users felt less relief with 84% saying they experienced moderate or complete relief from their headache. On the other hand, 94% of non-smartphone users said they felt relief from headaches after taking the medications.

Those who belong to the second group also reported a higher occurrence of a warming sensation, which is experienced before an attack of migraine or epilepsy. They refer to this warning sensation as an aura. When it comes to how often their headaches occurred, no difference was found between the first and the second group. The researchers also found no difference as to how severe or how long the headaches lasted. The limitation of the study, though, is that the authors did not follow the participants over time to know the changes that are related to smartphone usage.

Although the team did focus on why smartphone users have a hard time recovering from their headaches, 2018 research attributed it to “text neck.” A posture of repeated stress injury and pain from excessive texting or watching on the handheld on devices for a sustained period. The study emphasized that the posture puts a strain on the spine that is equivalent to about 20 to 30 pounds. The American Migraine Foundation also said that improper focusing of the eyes and holding the phone too close to the phase can cause headaches.



Strategies to correct the problem

Board-certified internist Colleen Doherty, MD, who is not part of the study, suggests there are ways to correct the problem. This includes adjusting the light of the screen that is not too bright for the eyes, adjusting the font size of the phone so that it will not cause eye strain, varying the posture, such as standing, sitting, and using back support, taking a break when hands or fingers feel strained, and considering using dictation for texts and emails. It is also advised to use a speakerphone setting whenever possible instead of holding the phone next to the ear.

Although it is not easy to cut back on mobile phone usage, she advised having no-tech time at home, particularly during family time and mealtimes to help alleviate the headaches. At night, it would also be a good thing to put the smartphone in another place other than in the bedroom. Find a hobby that takes some of your time away from technology, such as board games, painting, swimming, or being out in nature.



Smartphone users worldwide

In 2016, there were a total of 2.5 billion people in the world who used smartphones. The number increased to 2.7 billion in 2017, 2.9 billion in 2018, 3.2 billion in 2019, and an estimated 3.5 billion this year. Database company Statista also expects that the number will reach 3.8 billion in 2021. Countries with the highest number of smartphone users are China, India, and the United States. It added that approximately three male students and four females out of ten said that their headaches were caused by long hours spent in front of a smartphone or the screen of a computer.

Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, also published the list of countries with the highest share of the population using the internet as of 2017. This includes Japan (90.87% of its population), Sweden (96.41%), Canada (91.16%), United Arab Emirates (94.82%), United Kingdom (94.78%), Norway (96.51%), Iceland (98.24%), and Kuwait (98%), among others. There is no denying that the use of smartphones and the internet has increased globally. The technology now functions as more than just communication, as there are also various forms of entertainment online, such as games, music, and videos.

Public concerns about the possible detrimental effects of smartphone and technology usage have already been raised. Some minor side effects include sleep disturbance, headache, impairment of the short-term memory, fatigue, dizziness, tinnitus, benign warming of the ear, and lack of concentration. Let’s all face it. Even if most don’t want to give up their smartphones, there are ways to reduce our sensitivity and decrease the eye problems or headaches that we are experiencing simply by doing adjustments.