Most of us are attached at the hip to our cell phones, as they have evolved into communication devices that allow us to call, text, email, pay bills, and even watch TV. Heavy cell phone use has been linked to harming our brain, altering our posture, ruining the English language, and now our skin. According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology, continuously using our phones for 30 minutes plus throughout the day can increase the risk of cell phone-related allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) for those allergic to nickel, cobalt, and chromium.

With 85 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people globally, reports of ACD to the mobile phone have been on the rise since 2000, especially with heavy use among children and adolescents. Items such as laptops, video game controllers, and other technology accessories have also become sources of nickel sensitization and ACD. Chromium and cobalt, also metals found in cell phones, are linked to causing ACD. “With the increased use of smartphones, which include not only phone capabilities but also e-mail, texting, Internet, and gaming functions, it is likely that greater numbers of young adults will develop mobile phone dermatitis,” wrote Clare Richardson, researcher of the study from the Loma Lind University School of Medicine, California.

To accurately assess the incidence of ACD and cell phone use, Jacob Thyseen, lead researcher from Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, and his colleagues reviewed the current literature on mobile phone ACD in both children and adults. The studies observed nickel and cobalt release from mobile phones using screening spot tests to measure the prevalence of mobile phone skin allergies. Nickel release from cell phones is typically common in both cheap and expensive phones.

Since the 2000 pioneer case study on mobile phone ACD found two patients with persistent facial dermatitis, there have been an additional 35 cases of mobile phone and mobile phone accessory dermatitis. Both patches tested positive to nickel sulfate during the 2000 study. The findings revealed 27 of these cases implicated nickel as the main culprit of ACD. Cell phones in where the keypad had a lot of wear and tear were more likely to test positive for nickel.

Half of BlackBerry, 75 percent of Samsung and 70 percent of Motorola phones tested had nickel or cobalt on the keypad or headset. However, no Apple iPhones, Nokias, or Androids were found to contain metal. Most of the participants in these studies reported ACD symptoms — such as dry, itchy patches, redness, blistering, lesions, and even oozing on the face or ears — after using their phone non-stop for 30 minutes, or for more than an hour during the day.

Almost half of the cases that required medical treatment included those under age 18. Nickel allergy affects 10 percent of children and adults, says the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, often seen near the belly button. “With the rising use of cell phones and other mobile devices, pediatricians can expect to see additional cases of ACD,” says Dr. Mary Cataletto, editor-in-chief of the article, professor of clinical pediatrics at Stony Brook University, and practicing pediatric pulmonologist at Winthrop University Hospital, in the press release.

The team of researchers believe the revision of laws limiting allergen content and release would be a step in the right direction to reduce the incidence of mobile phone ACD. However, the presence of metals such as nickel are still in abundance in many consumer products. From 2010 to 2012, there has been a 40 percent increase in mobile phone ACD cases since the first two reports in 2000.

As cell phone allergies are increasingly on the rise and laws restricting nickel use in consumer products remain ineffective, users can take several safety measures to limit their nickel exposure. You can use the speakerphone or headset whenever possible, and use a protective plastic cover. Also, the duration and conditions of your cell phone play a big role in the likelihood of getting a reaction.

 

Sources:

Hamann CR, Hamann D, Richardson C, Thyseen JP. Mobile Phone Dermatitis in Children and Adults: A Review of the Literature. Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology. 2014.

Lucente P, Pazzaglia M, Tosti A, Vincenzi C. Contact dermatitis from nickel in mobile phones. Contact Dermatitis. 2000.