Swelling, Itching, Eczema? Should We Blame Cell Phones?

Seen an increase in the number of patients presenting with skin lesions on their face? Maybe you should ask them about their cell phone habits.

Chatting endlessly on your cell phone can lead to an allergic reaction to the nickel in your phone, according to allergists at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) in Phoenix, AZ, November 11-16. From cosmetics to jewelry, body piercings to tattoos, allergies can lurk in unlikely places, allergists say.

"Increased use of cell phones with unlimited usage plans has led to more prolonged exposure to the nickel in phones," said allergist Luz Fonacier, MD, ACAAI Fellow. "Patients come in with dry, itchy patches on their cheeks, jaw lines, and ears and have no idea what is causing their allergic reaction." Nickel is one of the most common contact allergens, and affects up to 17% of women and 3% of men. Contact with objects containing nickel, such as keys, coins and paper clips are generally brief, so the nickel allergy may not occur on the area of contact. However, even in these brief encounters, nickel can be transferred from fingers to the face and cause eyelid irritation. The risk is increased by frequent, prolonged exposure to nickel-containing objects, such as cell phones, jewelry, watches, and eyeglass frames. "Allergists are seeing increasing numbers of nickel allergy among patients," said Fonacier. "Some researchers suggest that there should be more nickel regulation in the US like there is in some European countries."

Symptoms include redness, swelling, itching, eczema, blistering, skin lesions and sometimes oozing and scarring. Avoidance of direct skin contact is the best solution. For cell phones, try using a plastic film cover, a wireless ear piece, or switching to a phone that does not contain metal on surfaces that contact the skin, suggested Fonacier. However, identifying the allergen and avoiding it is the only long-term solution.

Body piercings and tattoos

You can also have an allergic reaction to your body art (piercing and tattoos). Twenty-four percent of people 18 to 50 years old have tattoos and 14% have body piercings. "Allergic reactions from tattoos come mainly from the pigments used to color the dye," said Fonacier. "The issue with body piercing goes back to the increasing prevalence of nickel allergies. Some researchers suggest we delay introduction of ear piercing until children are older than 10 years."

Cosmetics

"It's well known that our everyday cosmetic products contain many substances that cause allergies," said Fonacier. "Although the cosmetic industry is one of the largest in the world, it is not highly regulated in the US. The average person uses 12 personal products a day. Those 12 products may contain up to 168 chemicals, many of which can be an irritant or a substance that causes an allergic reaction."

Nearly 22% of everyone patch tested for allergies react to chemicals in cosmetics, according to Fonacier. Fragrance and preservatives contained in cosmetics cause the most allergic reactions. Common allergy symptoms from cosmetics include: redness, itching, crusting, swelling, blistering, dryness, scaliness and thickening of the skin.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, via ScienceDaily