Some of the biggest names in tech have issued warnings over the past year about how their devices can overheat and catch on fire, but an analysis of emergency room data shows that most computer-related injuries stem from far less dramatic circumstances.
We’re talking about computers falling on people’s heads or being dropped on their toes. More than two dozen injuries resulted from tripping, such as down the stairs while carrying a computer or by getting tangled on a laptop cord. Not so shocking: A handful of injuries related to pulling out plugs too hastily.
When it comes to video game-related maladies, one Boston-area surgeon says throwback names such as PAC-MAN Wrist and Space Invader Wrist still apply to chronic overuse injuries to the wrist. "Many kids will get finger or thumb pain from overuse regularly, too," he says.
Network World has analyzed the most recent batch of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data, collected from about 100 hospitals reporting emergency room visits into the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (view an infographic highlighting the data further down in this article). NEISS is used to help spot possible issues with categories of products that are causing harm.
(Last year we examined injuries related to phones, both cellular and landlines, in “Blame the cellphone: Injuries pile up, from cat bites to shocks to broken bones”).
While NEISS redacts most brand-specific information, it does include a general product code for computer equipment, including game consoles. A search on that product code turned up 632 injury reports in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available (injury counts were down from recent years – maybe lighter laptops deserve credit). Looking at specific demographics, more than half of the patients were identified as male, and about 350 of the patients were age 20 or under.
Most of the injury descriptions in the database are brief and cryptic, but you can get the gist. Here’s a quick spin through the lowlights.
A Case of the Dropsies
It’s bad enough when you drop your laptop in that you might crack the screen or damage the machine in another way. But to have it break your toe or injure your foot? That’s just rubbing it in.
But according to the NEISS numbers, computer users have serious butter fingers. More than 40 incidents involved dropping computers, tablets, monitors or gaming systems on parts of their bodies – or on someone else. You didn’t see as much of this pre-laptops, when big old PCs tended to stay in place.
*5-year-old male’s brother dropped *** onto his head and lacerated his scalp
*11-year-old female has pinky toe deformity after dropping an *** onto it
*22-year-old male dropped computer on pubic area, suffered testicle pain
*46-year-old female dropped computer monitor on foot, fractured a toe
*13-month-old female dropped laptop on toe, tore toenail off
*A 30-year-old male was throwing away a computer tower and bruised his foot when he dropped the machine. Ouch.
Oh, and you know how flight attendants always warn you to be careful about opening up the overhead bins because stuff might have shifted during flight? Well, one 26-year-old female wound up in the emergency room after getting hit on the head by a laptop computer that fell out of the overhead storage area on a plane. Not that you can’t have something similar happen at home: A 44-year-old male suffered a cut when an old computer fell out of a closet and hit him in the face. Even worse, a 19-year-old female got conked on the head with a laptop that fell from a bunk bed five feet above the sofa she was napping on.
Back in the day, people used to threaten to throw things through their TV sets. But with computers being right there in front of them, the temptation is great to just go ahead and attack the device directly.
A 32-year-old male landed in the ER after punching a keyboard and getting a hand contusion. A 39-year-old male got mad while playing a video game and cut his hand after punching the system. A 20-year-old male punched a computer and cabinet, resulting in a broken hand.
Seizures and video games
About two dozen seizure incidents show up in the report, most involving people playing video games. It’s possible in some cases that flashing video game lights triggered the seizures, while others might have been coincidental, with people susceptible to seizures just happening to be at the computer or playing a game when afflicted.
The Epilepsy Foundation emphasizes that “video game-induced seizures” is the preferred description of incidents induced by video games rather than “video game epilepsy,” and notes that photosensitivity, pattern sensitivity and emotional/cognitive excitation can all lead to seizures.
Some people don’t have the right setup for using their computers and gaming systems, while others are just hunkered down for too long. Both lead to ER visits, according to the NEISS data.
For example, a 14-year-old male “playing video games in a single position for a long time” was treated for a strained neck, as was an 87-year-old female who said she was sitting too long at the computer. A 60-year-old female complained of wrist strain, noting that she is on the computer from the time she wakes up until she goes to bed.
Tripping, throwing & magic tricks
Injuries were also sustained by multi-taskers, such as those walking down stairs with computer monitors (a 63-year-old female hurt her ankle when she lost balance and fell, and an 80-year-old female fell down the stairs while carrying a computer and hurt her hip). Wireless charging didn’t arrive soon enough for the dozen or more patients who tripped over computer cords.
Someday people will also realize that today’s computers really aren’t meant to be thrown. A 6-year-old male suffered a cut when accidentally hit in the head with a video game by a sibling; a 2-year-old male somehow was struck in the face by a tablet and cut.
Then there was the 10-year-old female who was playing with a friend at her grandmother’s house, pulled the table cloth off the table, and -- voila! -- yanked a PC with it by mistake, smashing herself in the face. As Apple would say, computers are magical.