Mobile Phone Dermatitis

New skin disorder caused by mobile phones discovered
by: Jerry Liao

Ask your friends or the people around you what they regard as their most important gadget, and chances are people will say “mobile phone”. There was even a joke that somehow proves that mobile phones are people’s most cherished possession. It goes something like this:

If a user drop his/her mobile phone, they will quickly pick it up, clean it and check it if there are scratches or damages. If someone tripped and fall, people will not even bother to help them but instead will say “How careless”.

And since mobile phones are very important to users, it’s only but proper that they know their mobile phones inside and out. So let me ask you “Do you know that your mobile phone can cause skin disorders?” The new phenomenon is called “mobile phone dermatitis”. This can happen when people who spend long periods of time on their mobile phone develop an allergic reaction to the phone’s nickel surface.

Dr Graham Lowe, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “The allergy results from frequent skin contact with nickel-containing objects. Prolonged or repetitive contact with a nickel-containing phone is more likely to cause a skin reaction in those who are allergic. If you have had a previous reaction to a nickel-coated belt-buckle or jewelry, for example, you are at greater risk of reacting to metal phones.”

In mobile phone dermatitis, the rash would typically occur on the cheek or ear, depending on where the metal part of the phone comes into contact with the skin. In theory it could even occur on the fingers if you spend a lot of time texting on metal menu buttons.

Dra. Lonabel Ancheta-Encarnacion, Chief – Environmental Dermatology Unit / Dermatology Center of St. Luke’s Medical Center confirmed the report and added that nickel is one of the most common metal that causes dermatitis; chrome is another one.

“Things that contain nickel and chrome will cause rashes to people who are allergic to the substance. It doesn’t have to be mobile phones,” said Dra. Encarnacion. “It is important to educate our consumers that these substances can cause skin disorders to those who are prone to it.”

Dra. Encarnacion, regarded as one of the most respected dermatologist in the country added that treating the skin disorder is the easy part, detecting which substance a victim is allergic to is the challenge. That is why Dra. Encarnacion is advising consumers to take a “patch test” if and when they develop rashes before taking any medication and/or treatment.

“Patch testing is a way of identifying whether a substance that comes in contact with the skin is causing inflammation of the skin. The test involves the application of 70 test substances to the skin under adhesive tape that are then left in place for 48 hours. The skin is then examined a further 48 hours later for any response. This can help the doctor decide which allergens you are allergic to and identify those that could be aggravating your dermatitis. The doctor will then be able to advise how you can avoid the allergens,” explains Dra. Encarnacion.

Dra. Encarnacion also said that skin disorders if left untreated can cause dry skin and the most alarming effect is it can spread to other parts of the body.

Asked how one can test if their mobile phone is nickel positive, Dra. Encarnacion said one can perform a nickle spot test by applying a solution to a cotton-tipped applicator and rub it on the part of the mobile phone or any other equipment being tested. A pink color on the applicator indicates the presence of nickel.

On a personal note, I am not sure if mobile manufacturers are aware of this. If they’re not, I think they should, and they should start doing something about it. Informing and educating the consumers will be a good start. In any commercially available product, consumer welfare and safety should always come first.

The British Association of Dermatologists is warning other doctors to be aware of the allergy, which is thought to be on the increase. Because the condition has only newly been identified, many cases may go unreported or untreated, which has prompted the scientists to share their findings.

If you need more information, you can reach Dra. Lonabel Ancheta-Encarnacion at 726-3668.

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