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Hold the Phone: Prolonged Cell Phone Use Can Trigger Allergic Reaction

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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). 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," says allergist Luz Fonacier, M.D., 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 percent of women and 3 percent 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," says Dr. Fonacier. "Some researchers suggest that there should be more nickel regulation in the U.S. 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 phone users, Dr. Fonacier suggests 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. However, identifying the allergen and avoiding it is the only long term solution.

Piercings, Tattoos, Cosmetics

Dr. Fonacier says users can also have an allergic reaction to body piercings, tattoos, or cosmetics. "It's well known that our everyday cosmetic products contain many substances that cause allergies," Dr. Fonacier says.

Those who suspect they have allergies to nickel, cosmetics, or should be tested by an allergist—a doctor who is an expert in diagnosing and treating allergies and asthma. Learn more about allergies and asthma, take a free relief self-test, or find an allergist near you at

The annual meeting of the ACAAI is being held November 12 - 15 at the Phoenix Convention Center,  Phoenix, AZ.


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