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How an iPad can trigger a nasty, itchy rash

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study says that nickel in iPads can cause skin rash

About a year ago, I developed a nasty, itchy rash around my fingers and on the top of my thighs. For the life of me, I could not figure out the source. Neither could my dermatologist, who said it could be due to any number of things.

I left my doctor's office discouraged, but armed with a variety of prescription cream treatments that might cure my rash. Alas, none of them worked, and my rash only got worse. It was a miserable summer.

Nevertheless, I kept racking my brain, trying to think of some chemical or other ingredient that I may have come into contact with that I never had before. Then, a few months later, it suddenly hit me.

I remembered that earlier that summer, my husband bought me an iPad, which I started using each morning when I sat on the porch to have my coffee.

When I shared this news with my dermatologist, he immediately suspected that my iPad contained nickel.

Turned out it did, and as soon as I bought a protective case cover for my iPad, the rash went away.

So I wasn't surprised when I came across a new study today published in the journal Pediatrics, which reported that many electronic devices, including iPad, contain nickel, which can trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible people.

Researchers involved in the study wrote about the importance of considering any electronic device or other personal item appearing to contain metal as a potential source of nickel, which can cause skin rashes called allergic contact dermatitis.

Children are especially vulnerable to these skin outbreaks when exposed to devices containing nickel, including electronics and other personal effects made with metallic-appearing materials.

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Personal effects that commonly contain nickel include clothing fasteners, which release nickel, as well as dental work and ear piercings. Additional sources of nickel include mobile phones, laptop computers and video-game controllers. The study authors write that even wind-up toys can contain nickel, triggering nickel allergies in children as manifested by an itchy, red rash.

Sometimes nickel can cause a generalized rash, which left untreated can persist for several months.

Because the source of contact dermatitis can be due to any number of culprits, dermatologists often miss nickel allergies, testing rash patients with allergy creams they’ve used in the past, only to get no reaction.

In such cases, a skin patch test is usually necessary to determine if the source of the rash is due to nickel.

So what can you do if your iPad causes you to break out in a rash from a nickel allergy?

The study authors, both of whom are dermatologists at the the University of California , San Diego (UCSD), suggest covering the metallic part of the iPad with duct tape or otherwise purchasing one of those protective cases to cover the metallic portions of the iPad.

Just make sure the protective case is nickel-free, which you should also do before purchasing other products that may contain the allergy-causing metal. Same goes for laptop computers and other electronic devices like cell phones.

Dr. Michele Zormeier, a double-board certified facial cosmetic surgeon in Indiana and California, who has additional training in functional medicine, said that nickel is one of the most common sources of allergy, and that it can cause severe reactions in patients that include acute itching, redness, inflammation and painful crusting on the skin.

She advises anyone who suspects they may have a nickel allergy to consult with a board-certified dermatologist.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, iPad—Increasing Nickel Exposure in Children,
Sharon E. Jacob, MD and Shehla Admani, MD, published July 14, 2014.