SUNDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- If you're an incessant cell
phone user and a mysterious rash appears along your jaw, cheek or
ear, chances are you're allergic to nickel, a metal commonly used
in cell phones.
While allergists have long been familiar with nickel allergy,
"cell phone rash" is just starting to show up on their radar
screen, said Dr. Luz Fonacier, head of allergy and immunology at
Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.
"Increased use of cell phones with unlimited usage plans has led to prolonged exposure to the nickel in phones," said Fonacier, who is scheduled to discuss the condition in a larger presentation on skin allergies Nov. 14 at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting in Phoenix.
Symptoms of cell phone allergy include a red, bumpy, itchy rash
in areas where the nickel-containing parts of a cell phone touch
the face. It can even affect fingertips of those who text
continuously on buttons containing nickel. In severe cases,
blisters and itchy sores can develop.
Fonacier said she sees many patients who are allergic to nickel
and don't know it. "They come in with no idea of what is causing
their allergic reaction," said Fonacier, also a professor of
clinical medicine at the State University of New York at Stony
Brook. Sometimes, she traces her patients' symptoms to their cell
In 2000, a researcher in Italy documented the first case of cell
phone rash, prompting other research on the condition. In a 2008
study published in the
Canadian Medical Association Journal, U.S. researchers tested for nickel in 22 handsets from eight manufacturers; 10 contained the metal. The parts with the most nickel were the menu buttons, decorative logos on the headsets and the metal frames around the liquid crystal display (LCD) screens.
Cell phone rash is still not well known, said allergist Dr.
Stanley M. Fineman, a clinical associate professor at the Emory
University School of Medicine in Atlanta. While he's treated more
cases of nickel allergy caused by piercings than by cell phones,
"it's good for allergists and dermatologists to have cell phone
contact dermatitis on their radar screens," he said.
Nickel allergy affects an estimated 17 percent of women and 3
percent of men. Women typically develop cell phone rash more often
because they are more likely to have been sensitized to nickel
after ear piercing, or had an allergic reaction to
nickel-containing jewelry. If you get rashes from costume jewelry
or the metal button on your jeans, you're probably
nickel-sensitive, said Fonacier.
To treat cell phone rash, you can apply a mild over-the-counter
corticosteroid, she said. (Ask your doctor about how long you can
safely use it.) Then, keep the nickel-bearing parts of your phone
off your face.
"Buy a phone cover, opt for a hands-free device, use the speaker phone or switch to a phone that doesn't contain nickel on surfaces that touch your skin," she said. Consult an allergist if the rash lingers.
If you know you're nickel-allergic, go online and order a nickel
spot-test kit before you buy a new phone, Fonacier suggested. "Put
a drop of the liquid [dimethylglyoxime] on a cotton swab and dab
the swab on those parts of the phone where nickel is typically
found," she said. "If the applicator turns pink, the phone contains
a good amount of nickel."
Some researchers believe the United States should regulate
nickel more stringently, as some European countries do, said
Fonacier. Since 1994, the EU Nickel Directive has limited nickel
release from consumer products that come into direct, prolonged
contact with skin. Since then, the prevalence of nickel sensitivity
has gone down in Germany and Denmark, according to studies
published by researchers in those countries.
The best remedy for cell phone dermatitis is not to get it in
the first place, said Fonacier. "Just as you cannot tell a woman
not to wear cosmetics because she is allergic to fragrance, you
cannot tell people not to use cell phones because they are allergic
to nickel. There would be no compliance," she said. "So prevention
is the key."
To learn more about skin allergies, see the
American Academy of Family Physicians.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.