We’ve become more dependent than ever on our cell phones and many find it convenient to take them into the bathroom. However, using our phones while on the toilet could put our health at risk.
Health experts warn that using mobile phones when on the toilet is not only unsanitary, but may affect the health of our intestines, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular function, eyes, neck, and spine.
A 2021 consumer survey by Vioguard, a company manufacturing ultraviolet disinfection technology products, found that 73 percent of over 1100 respondents, regardless of age or gender, admitted using their mobile phones while on the toilet or standing at a urinal. This increased to 93 percent for younger people ages 18 to 29.
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal GERMS revealed a high level of bacterial contamination on the mobile phones of high school students (ages 16 to 18) with potentially pathogenic bacteria.
Researchers found more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies per phone, with no differences between gender or phone types.
Scientists at the University of Arizona revealed that mobile phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats.
Using your mobile phone while going to the bathroom has six potential health risks:
1. Bacteria and Viral Exposure
Toilets are a breeding ground for various pathogenic bacteria and viruses such as streptococcus, Escherichia coli (E. coli), salmonella, mold, and norovirus. When using a mobile phone while going to the toilet or even flushing the toilet, these bacteria and viruses will attach to phone surfaces.
Even after washing your hands, your phone can still become contaminated by pathogens with the potential to cause diarrhea, asthma, and other diseases.
Researchers at the London School of Health & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London analyzed 390 samples from 12 cities in the UK, collected from both mobile phones and hands to analyze germs present.
They found that 92 percent of mobile phones and 82 percent of the participants’ hands contained bacteria, despite 95 percent stating they washed their hands with soap as much as possible.
Also concerning is the finding that 16 percent of participants’ mobile phones and 16 percent of their hands were contaminated with E. coli. E. coli is a bacterium derived from infected stool that can cause gastrointestinal discomfort as well as serious, potentially fatal cases of food poisoning.
Huang Xuan, a specialist in thoracic and critical care medicine at Taichung Tsz Chi Hospital, shared concern that the temperature of mobile phones is conducive to bacterial manifestations since they can reach up to 43°C (109.4°F), when used for talking, playing games, or browsing social media.
Regularly disinfecting your phone and sufficiently washing your hands after using the toilet is the most effective way to remove bacteria and viruses.
However, the best way to prevent pathogenic exposure is to avoid taking your cell phone into the bathroom entirely.
2. Dizziness, Bloating, and Nausea
While sitting on the toilet, people who use their mobile phones can unconsciously extend their time staying in the bathroom, which causes blood to flow downward, potentially resulting in insufficient blood supply to the brain. Dizziness and nausea can occur when you suddenly stand up after sitting for a long period of time.
In Chongqing, China, a 24-year-old man who squatted on the toilet while gaming on his cell phone for 30 minutes was later found to have collapsed on the floor.
The local emergency doctor said that squatting on the toilet for so long likely led to poor blood circulation and increased the possibility of fainting, in addition to being in a narrow, closed bathroom with no ventilation.
3. Constipation and Hemorrhoids
Prolonged sitting on the toilet, as well as chronic constipation and straining during bowel movements, can interfere with blood flow, enlarging the blood vessels, and may lead to vasodilation.
Vasodilation, or vasorelaxation, occurs when blood vessels are dilated, particularly in the lower rectum, and can result in hemorrhoids.
Dr. Gregory Thorkelson, a psychiatrist in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh told Men’s Health that it’s best to limit the time you spend sitting on the toilet to less than 10 to 15 minutes.
Thorkelson explained that an intestinal peristalsis wave with progressive, rhythmic contractions causes stool to move to the rectum, stimulating the urge for a bowel movement. When you cannot release stool at that time, reverse peristalsis can occur, causing it to back up into the colon. This can create constipation and make it more challenging to go later. If the urge to use the toilet has subsided, Thorkelson suggests leaving the bathroom instead of sitting down and waiting.
4. Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Function
Taiwan Qixin Clinic stated in an article that during a bowel movement, the abdominal wall and diaphragm muscles strongly contract, increasing abdominal pressure.
Increasing abdominal pressure can increase arterial blood pressure and myocardial oxygen consumption, which can induce angina pectoris, increase the risk of myocardial infarction, and create a heart arrhythmia. In severe cases, it can lead to cerebral hemorrhage and sudden death.
As the vascular regulation response of middle-aged and older people deteriorates, the clinic warned that after sitting on a toilet for a prolonged duration, some people become prone to temporary cerebral ischemia, nausea, and cerebrovascular accidents when standing up. Care should be taken since this can be a precursor to ischemic stroke.
5. Neck and Lumbar Disc Herniation
EUROSPINE, an organization dedicated to the field of research, prevention, and treatment of spine diseases, pointed out that since a person’s head can easily weigh about five kilograms (11 pounds), looking down at electronic devices such as mobile phones can strain the neck, causing shoulder and neck pain, stiffness, and headaches, that can become more severe over time.
The Taiwan Qixin clinic emphasized that the human body often leans forward unconsciously when sitting on the toilet, especially when squatting, causing the lumbar spine to lack sufficient support and change the original curvature. When intervertebral disc gravity increases, the risk of lumbar disc herniation increases.
If you sit on the toilet and use a mobile phone for too long, the anterior buckling of the cervical spine will eventually shift. Over time, this shift may lead to symptoms such as cervical disc herniation.
6. Dry Eye Syndrome
Staring at a phone screen or playing computer games while sitting on a toilet for an extended period of time can lead to ocular surface dryness, which may facilitate the development of dry eye disease.
A 2021 study published in Clinical Ophthalmology found evidence that the duration of digital screen use reduced eye blink rate and blink completeness.
Reduced blink rate while using electronic devices will lead to dry eyes. Dry eye disease will often result in burning, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision, eventually leading to more serious vision problems and negatively impacting the quality of life.