A few ways your laptop is slowly killing you

Prolonged use of a laptop can have health implications including a negative impact on vision, hearing and male fertility

The news that laptops can negatively impact male fertility -- even when a cooling pad is used -- has been capturing headlines this week. While that is a significant potential consequence of prolonger laptop use, it is not the only adverse impact the laptop can have on one's health.

We live in an increasingly busy and mobile world where more and more people rely on mobile computing to stay productive anytime and anywhere. Unfortunately, as convenient as laptops may be when it comes to portable computing, there are also some down sides.

Male Infertility. There is a biological reason that the testes are stored in the scrotum -- outside of the body. Sperm production requires a lower temperature than the standard internal body temp. Tech gadgets generate heat -- a lot of heat in some cases. There are even Android and iPhone apps specifically designed to max the processor and heat the smartphone up to use as a hand warmer in colder climates. A recent study found that the temperature generated by placing a laptop on your lap -- even when using a laptop cooling pad -- results in temps that can impact male fertility. Men looking forward to fathering children may want to think twice about using a laptop on their lap.

Hearing Loss. Have you ever been in a quiet house when the power went out. Then you realize just how quiet real silence is. Even when not making any overt sound, the laptop fan is generally spinning away, and there is the general hum of the inner workings of the laptop. This relatively moderate white noise is not a significant health risk, but can result in impairment or partial hearing loss over time. Users who routinely use headphones with the laptop may subject themselves to significantly higher decibels and be at even greater risk.

Vision Strain. Staring at a laptop screen for extended periods of time can strain your eyes. It can result in headaches, or dry and itchy eyes -- and over time it could permanently affect your vision. Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, FAAO recommends the following practice to reduce eye strain. "When using a digital device take a break, blink, breathe. Many doctors call this the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away." Dr. Bonilla-Warford also suggests an annual eye exam.

Carpal Tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a concern for extensive typing in general. However, space is often more cramped when using a laptop, and the ergonomics are not optimal when trying to type while balancing a laptop on your knees. Extended typing on a laptop -- especially if your arms and hands are not positioned properly, can result in muscle strains and moderate to sever pain.

Back Pain. Some laptops are quite hefty. At the same time that much smaller netbooks have exploded in popularity, there has also been a rise in massive desktop replacement laptops. In order to pack in processing power, storage, and a display comparable to a desktop PC, these gargantuan laptops can weigh in at six or seven pounds. That isn't a tremendous amount of weight, but when placed in a brief case or shoulder bag it can put a significant strain on back muscles as you lug it around town.

I am not suggesting that using a laptop will result in you being a sterile, deaf, blind, hunchback -- but be warned that it's possible. Seriously, all of these are real potential health implications of prolonged laptop use, and you should be aware of the risks and take appropriate precautions.

One solution is to use a tablet instead of a laptop. The tablet won't resolve the eye strain, or carpal tunnel issues per se, but the cool, silent, lightweight device can meet almost all of the standard needs typically met by a laptop, and eliminate the risk of infertility, hearing loss, and back pain at the same time.

If a tablet just won't cut it for your mobile computing needs, you could at least switch to a smaller, lighter, netbook which will hopefully also run cooler and quieter than a larger notebook PC.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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