Are You Allergic to Your Gadgets?

Photo by James Heilman, MD CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo by James Heilman, MD

Last year, a story broke about apparently caused from exposure to a nickel. due to the report of rashes forming on the wrists of users of the device. In the past, we almost never heard of such problems with technology probably because it wasn’t so portable or we didn’t handle it as much as we do now. Are these sort of incidents going to become more common and can consumers do something about this?

The Most Common Types of Allergens Found In Tech Items

The most typical contact allergies in the population are from nickel and latex. Nickel is an extremely common form of metal. While most metal shells used in laptops, smartphones and tablets tend to be either aluminum, magnesium or steel they are often a form of alloy that combines multiple metals. Nickel could potentially be contained in such alloys. With laptops, the contact was generally limited as most keyboard as still made from plastics while only the external shell was metal but more and more mobile devices are looking to metals for a luxury feel and durability compared to plastics.

Latex is a milky sap that is produced by the rubber plant. It is typically used in rubber but can also be found in some form of plastics. As latex is generally fairly good for impact resistance thanks to its flexibility, it can be added to bumpers or cases in addition to plastics. Thus, even though your device may not have latex in it, the case that you put it in may. The result is someone with an allergy may end up with the reaction months after they purchased a device because the new case they put it in has the allergen.

Allergies Will Likely Grow With the Increase of Wearables

Google glass, smart watches and fitness trackers are all examples of wearable devices. They are tech items that we carry constantly and are frequently in contact with our bodies. As the number of these devices increase and more people begin using them, we are likely going to see more and more cases of allergic reactions to the devices. Hopefully the companies that build these will be testing the products thoroughly for common allergens but many of these companies have not worked in medical or cosmetic fields that do such testing routinely. In addition, costs are often a driving factor for making technology as affordable as possible. This means early adopters of this technology many be more susceptible until the industry does a better job of testing and labeling of materials used in the construction of the devices.

Solution For Some Devices

Kid's IPad With Case

My Son’s iPad in A Protective Case

In the case of the iPad allergy or other mobile devices, users can often get around the problem by using a case that encloses the device. For instance, the reported allergy of the child was to nickel that was found in the original iPad metal back. By putting the device into a case, the child’s skin no longer came in contact with the surface with the allergen that triggered the allergy. The same can be done with most major cell phones as well. Of course, the material of the case will be important as well.

This solution obviously will not work with all types of devices. As in the case of the Fitbit force, it is a wearable and doesn’t typically have a case to go over it. Some devices like smart watches may be able to get around the problem if the allergen is in the band and it can be replaced by the consumer. This of course will depend upon the device though and might be something to consider when purchasing one.

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