Story at a glance
- Screens are everywhere we go, but should they be present in the emergency department?
- A study on concussions examines how screen time affects recovery.
- Results suggest that abstaining from screen time can shorten recovery times by days.
With the portability and ubiquity of screens, researchers are interested in the various ways that they may impact our health. One aspect in particular is screen use following a concussion. A study of screen use during the first two days after a concussion suggests that there may be an effect.
“It's one thing parents and children always ask in the emergency department,” said lead author and physician Theodore E. Macnow, an assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Massachusetts Medical School in a press release. “Is screen time allowed?”
Macnow led a group of researchers in study of screen use during the first 48 hours of a concussion and monitored the symptoms through 10 days after the diagnosis.
Health experts and researchers have been learning more about concussions in recent years, especially in children and young adults.
“We're still learning how to treat concussions and there are no clear recommendations regarding screen time,” says Macnow in the press release. “Nobody has yet looked at this question in a rigorous way. We wanted to get a better handle on this question, so we conducted a randomized clinical trial.”
In this study that lasted from June 2018 to February 2020, the team monitored 125 patients whose ages ranged from 12 to 25. The patients arrived at the Emergency Department at UMass Memorial Medical Center with concussions and were placed randomly in one of two cohorts. The first group was told to not use any screens for 48 hours. The second group was allowed any kind of screen as long as it didn’t induce symptoms. Both groups were instructed to avoid work and schoolwork for the first 48 hours.
The patients were given a survey called the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale (PCSS) when they were first diagnosed and each day afterwards for the duration of the study. A PCSS score of less than three is baseline or normal, whereas a score of six is severe.
The screen time group logged a median of 630 minutes on screens during the first 48 hours, while the group who were told to abstain logged a median of 130 minutes. As a result, the researchers found that the median recovery time for concussion patients who were allowed screen time was significantly higher at eight days compared to three-and-a-half days for patients in the other group.
“These findings support the conclusion that brief screen time abstinence following a concussion is associated with a faster recovery,” Macnow said. “Given this data, preliminary clinical recommendations should be to limit screen time.”
Macnow also suggests that a larger, more diverse multicenter study is necessary to see if these results are consistent.
“What’s more, we only looked at the first 48 hours after diagnosis. It would be worthwhile to see if abstaining from screen time longer had more of an impact or if specific screen time activities—video games vs. television—have a more pronounced effect on recovery time.”
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