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Your Cell Phone Could Give You Allergies

Blackberry or iPhone? Turns out your health may at stake when you make the choice.

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--by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Struggling to make the choice between iPhone and Blackberry? Your health may play an unlikely role in your decision. New research released today at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) shows that one third of Blackberrys contain nickel and cobalt, which are common allergy triggers that can lead to patches of red, itchy skin. iPhones were not found to contain either ingredient in the study. Droids don't have them either, but your average flip phone does—a whopping 91 percent contain nickel and 52 percent contain cobalt, according to the study.

"Both metals can cause an allergic reaction, including dry, itchy patches along the cheek bones, jaw line, and ears," said allergist Tania Mucci, M.D., lead study author and an ACAAI member. The metals are often found in jewelry and coins as well, and nickel in particular is a common allergen, affecting three percent of men and 17 percent of women.

The Expert Take

"Patients with nickel and cobalt allergies should consider using iPhones or Droids to reduce the chance of having an allergic reaction," says allergist Luz Fonacier, M.D., study author and an ACAAI fellow. "Blackberry users with known allergies should avoid prolonged conversations, text messaging, and handling their phones if they begin noticing symptoms."

The study authors also note that those who do show allergy symptoms should consider getting a plastic phone case or using wireless ear pieces. 

The Takeaway

If you have swelling, redness, eczema, itching, blistering, scarring, or skin lesions near your cheek bones, ears, or jaw line, you may be a victim of this unfortunate cell phone allergy. Consider switching your phone or covering it up—or using a hands-free device.

Many people may not even know they have the allergy, or perhaps they notice symptoms but don't know the cause. This new research should help clear up some confusion—and your skin!

Source and Method

72 cell phones were tested for nickel and cobalt, of which 25 were iPhones, 17 were Blackberrys, 9 were Motorola Droids, and 21 were flip phones. All participants were over the age of 18 and were asked about their cell phone usage, including talking and texting, and five spots on the phones were tested for these metals.

Neither metal was found in the iPhones and Droids, but 29.4 percent of Blackberrys tested positive for nickel, 90.5 percent of flip phones tested positive as well, and 52.4 percent tested positive for cobalt. The sample size of participants and phones was notably small. 

Other Research

Previous studies have noted a rise in cell-phone-induced allergic reactions. A 2009 study in Contact Dermatitis notes a rise in adolescents' allergic reactions to cell phones containing nickel, in particular. A 2006 study in the same publication notes that nickel and cobalt are actually in a range of products, such as earrings, jewelry, and other metal products, which may contribute to the higher allergy rates in women.

And a 2010 case-specific study of a 39-year-old man indicates that nickel found in cell phones can indeed produce a sustained, treatment-resistant allergic response—and that reports of it are likely to increase, especially as awareness increases.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research , Technology

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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