Are you allergic to your cell phone?

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

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We have covered before the most bizarre forms of allergies but this one is something for the books.

The symptoms: itchiness and rashes in the areas of the jaw, face and ears which appear after phone use.

The hypothesis: allergic reaction to phones

Now, if this is true that some people are allergic to phones, this can have a tremendous effect on our lifestyle, not to mention the phone industry. After all the industry is already currently under fire about supposedly adverse effects on the brain that may lead to tumor development.

Well, let us look at what science has to tell us about allergic reactions to phones.

The most probable explanation is that people are allergic to certain substances on the phone surface, particularly metals like nickel.

Nickel allergy is a common condition. I myself have it. The prevalence of nickel allergy in the US is reported to be 3% in men and 20% in women, according to recent estimates. Nickel is found in many metal products such as jewelry and. That is why there is nickel-free jewelry (“hypoallergenic”) available on the market. Many people have reported allergic reactions from metal jewelry and piercings. There were even cases when people get allergic reactions when handling nickel containing coins.

Scientists call it “cell phone contact dermatitis with nickel allergy”. One case was described in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

An 18-year-old male presented with pruritic lichenified dermatitis on his lower abdomen and eczematous dermatitis on his extremities, flanks and face that had lasted several weeks. We suspected his belt buckle had led to allergic contact dermatitis with subsequent autoeczematization. Patch testing using the expanded North American Contact Dermatitis Group allergen battery of 65 allergens1 disclosed an edematous and papulovesicular reaction to nickel at 72 hours. The patient had no other positive reactions, nor did he react to other metals tested, including gold, cobalt, chromium, copper and palladium.

The patient suspected that his recurrent facial dermatitis was related to contact with the headset of his cell phone. We spot tested both the antenna and the headset for free nickel. The test of the antenna, which was plastic coated with metallic paint, was negative. The test of the headset was strongly positive for free nickel. The patient began using a cell phone that contained no nickel, and his facial dermatitis cleared. He decided to resume using his old cell phone to confirm that it had caused his dermatitis and the eruption recurred. (Bercovitch & Luo, 2008).

The researchers went on to test 22 cell phone models and 1 Bluetooth headset for traces of nickel: the results showed that some of those tested have free nickel, including:

  • BlackBerry 8700c (on the speaker phone)
  • Motorola L2 (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Motorola Razr (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Motorola SLVR (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Motorola Q (on the headset, decorative logo)
  • Samsung e105 (metal around the screen, menu button)
  • Samsung d807 (menu button)
  • Sony Ericsson W600i (menu button)
  • Sony Ericsson W810i (menu button)
  • Sony Ericsson T610 (Handset, if paint is chipped)

The good thing about fast-turnover technology is that the models listed above are most probably not being used anymore. Most phone models and headsets these days are nickel-free. But just in case, ask your vendor before buying.

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3 Responses to “Are you allergic to your cell phone?”
  1. Georgia says:

    This must be the rarest form of allergy, and I’m pretty sure all teenagers are immune to it. It doesn’t seem like such a severe allergy anyway, I wish my 16 year old cousin had this instead of the yeast infection she got from using some douche, she was so embarrassed that she had to ask me to buy her threelac because she didn’t want her parents to find out. It’s difficult being a teenager, but I’m pretty sure it’s even more difficult for the parents.

  2. Max Wayne says:

    I’m one of a growing number of people, currently living in the US, who has been suffering debilitating symptoms from an ‘allergy’ to the electromagnetic and microwave radiation emitted by area cell phone masts, Wifi, and Wimaxx signals, I can’t even use my phone for mass texting because of it. No doctor in the U.S. has given me a dx of electrosensitivity, and most I’ve confided in just laugh it off as being all in my head. But I recognize the symptoms, and when you can physically FEEL the radiation, it’s pretty hard to deny.

  3. Interesting study. I’m trying to find out why the incidences of nickel allergy appear to be much higher in women. I know it’s just an estimate, but this study puts it more at 17%:

    Still a large disparity between the figures for men and women.

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