Are you allergic to your cell phone?

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

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.

The health hazards of phoning while driving

June 16, 2010 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

We all know we are not supposed to be doing it – handheld phoning and driving at the same time. Yet we do it all the time. On the Swiss highway, there is big sign from the police: “If you keep on phoning, we’ll have to get to know you better.” Yet, people are getting caught all the time. There are many reasons why we shouldn’t phone and drive. You might think you know it all but let’s have a look again.

Talking hinders driving

We are aware that driving takes a lot of concentration. One split second of inattentiveness and distraction can be fatal. There are many things that can distract us during a drive – the radio, the kids at the backseat, the landscape, even the navigation system. However, the phone is the worst of them all. A large number of traffic accidents are attributed to phone use. Studies have shown that phoning while driving is just as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol. Dr. Amy Ship of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston:

“Although there are many possible distractions for drivers, more than 275 million Americans own cell phones, and 81 per cent of them talk on those phones while driving.”

Driving hinders talking

It is not only your driving that is affected by the phoning-driving combination. Your communication skills are affected as well. A recent report in Family Science Review shows that relationships to those near and dear can suffer through distracted phone calls while driving. Such phone calls are characterized by abruptness, delayed responses, and sometimes even missing important details of the conversation. Thus, half-heard phone calls lead to a lot of misunderstanding that can affect relationships.

I used to answer my phone and yell to my husband “I can’t talk, I’m driving”, and disconnect. However, I realized this is all very unnecessary, not to mention stupid. Nowadays, I simply let the phone ring in my handbag or even put it to mute. The message: talking hinders driving but driving hinders talking, too.

It’s not only about the talking

Now, smart phones are not only for talking. It’s for texting, surfing, emailing, tweeting, and what else. These activities are even more distracting than simply talking. You need your hands as well as your eyes to do these.


Use hands-free devices

Health authorities recommend the use of hands-free devices while driving. This may reduce but not completely get rid of distraction while driving. Definitely the distraction of talking can be improved by hands-free devices. But not the texting, etc.


In many countries, phoning while driving is a traffic violation that can lead to hefty fines. In North America, all Canadian provinces except New Brunswick and Alberta as well as 41 American states have legislations in place. But these laws, like most traffic legislations, are not taken seriously.

Doctors should warn their patients.

People sometimes could take advice more easily from their doctors than from the law enforcers or their loved ones. If a doctor can talk to a patient about the hazards of smoking and alcohol, he or she can also talk about the hazards of phoning while driving. Primary care clinicians should therefore discuss this issue with their patients. This is according to a commentary by Dr. Ship in the recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that spending three minutes discussing the risk of tobacco use with a patient increases the likelihood of that patient quitting smoking. The same might be true for cell phone use.”

Interphone results: are we any closer to the truth about cell phones and brain tumors?

June 3, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Last month, the US FDA issued a consumer update on the health risks of cell phone use based on the latest Interphone International Study Group results. The Interphone studies were initiated in 2000 in 13 countries mainly in Europe (US is not included), coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer  (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Interphone studies are led by 21 international scientists. The latest results are now posted online in the June issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The main message of the FDA update: Mobile phone use does not cause brain cancer.

The Study

The study looked at a very large number of phone users (about 13,000) using cell phones for at least 10 years and focused on 4 types of tumors in the area of the brain most likely exposed to radiofrequency (RF) during phone use. These tumors are glioma, meningioma, tumors of the acoustic nerve, and of the parotid gland.

Some of the data suggested that heavy phone users may be at risk but after adjusting for biases and errors, the authors conclude: “There is little or no risk of brain tumors for most long-term users of cell phones.”

According to Abiy Desta, network leader for science at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health:

“There are still questions on the effect of long-term exposure to radio frequency energy that are not fully answered by Interphone. However, this study provides information that will be of great value in assessing the safety of cell phone use.”

Does the latest report settle the question of the link between mobile phone and cancer? Let us look at what people have to say

Who’s happy with the results?

Aside from the FDA and WHO, not many agencies were satisfied with the Interphone results. The mobile phone industry, who contributes substantial funds to the Interphone study, is of course pleased about the results. The GSM Association in the UK states:

“…the large body of existing research and many expert reviews that consistently conclude that there is no established health risk.”

Who’s not satisfied with the results?

WHO study has no clear answer on phones and cancer
This report from Reuters said that the Interphone results “gave no clear answers.”

Even some Interphone scientists believe that their results are inconclusive.

According to on Interphone scientist Elisabeth Cardis of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain:

“We can’t just conclude that there is no effect. There are indications of a possible increase. We’re not sure that it is correct. It could be due to bias, but the indications are sufficiently strong… to be concerned.”

The director of the IARC tells Reuters:

“The results really don’t allow us to conclude that there is any risk associated with mobile phone use, but… it is also premature to say that there is no risk associated with it.”

No answer, just fuzz, from cell phone study
This msnbc report, too, says that the results are inconclusive. The article quoted epidemiologist Jack Siemiatycki of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre in Canada as saying that the results are “ambiguous, surprising and puzzling.”

There are a lot of criticisms about how the studies were done, mainly the so-called “recall bias” of retrospective studies. The quality of the data is in question as there is a tendency for heavy users to overestimate their phone use and light users to underestimate theirs.

According to Mireille Toledano, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London:

“The problem with mobile phones is that when you’re trying to do a retrospective study like this, you’re almost totally dependent on people recalling. You haven’t got anything else on which to base your data.”

What now?

In science, the standard practice is when in doubt, look again. This is exactly what is going on. In the planning is an even larger study (a quarter of a million people!), but a prospective one (“forward-looking”) which will follow up users regularly for a period of time, to remove the “recall” bias. The problem with prospective studies is that they take time, e.g. for this kind of epidemiological study, 10 years might be too short to get clear results. We might have to wait for another 30 years. In the meantime, mobile telephony is evolving fast.

Cell phones with the least and most radiation

October 19, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

mob phoneA few months back, I posted several articles on the link between phone radiation and brain cancer risk. Those reviews presented the results of studies with inconclusive and sometimes contradictory results.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) believes that until we know for sure the health risks that cell phone radiation poses, it is best to stick to the phone models with the lowest radiation. I completely agree with the group.

In fact, this is in line with what the World Health Organization recommends following the policies of precautionary principle. The strategy Prudent Avoidance “prescribes taking low-cost measures to reduce exposure, in the absence of any scientifically justifiable expectation that the measures would reduce risk.”

So Iet’s be prudent and avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation from cell phones. Thus, I present to you the findings of EWG in their survey of more than 1,000 models (gosh, do we have that many models already?) of phones currently available on the market.

Here is the list of ten phones with the least radiation emission (range: 0.15 to 55 W/kg):

In terms of PDA/smart phones, those with least radiation emission (range: 021 to 0.59 W/kg). Some models listed are yet on the market.

EWG is lamenting the fact that although health authorities have strict guidelines regarding the labelling of food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, such requirements do not exist for cell phones. Wouldn’t it be very useful if phone specs also include the amount of radiation they emit? However, currently, this EWG guide is the only thing that can help us consumers

Anyway, from the EWG report, the models that emit the most radiation (range: 1.1 to 1.55 W/kg) are:

  • Motorola MOTO VU204 [Verizon Wireless]
  • T-Mobile myTouch 3G [T-Mobile]
  • Kyocera Jax S1300 [Virgin Mobile]
  • Blackberry Curve 8330 [Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, MetroPCS]
  • Motorola W385 [U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless]
  • T-Mobile Shadow [T-Mobile]
  • Motorola C290 [Sprint, Kajeet]
  • Motorola i335 [Sprint]
  • Motorola MOTO VE240 [Cricket, MetroPCS]
  • Blackberry Bold 9000 [AT&T

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.