Nickel allergy has some itching to use their iPads

Doctors reporting more rashes resulting from metal technology

Your iPad might not look like poison ivy, but for certain people it can have the same effect.

An 11-year-old San Diego boy broke out in a scaly rash that lasted more than six months. Dermatologists prescribed ointment, but the rash persisted, and doctors eventually identified the nickel used in the boy’s iPad as the source of his allergic reaction. Their report published Monday in the journal Pediatrics is the first documented case of an iPad causing contact dermatitis.

“Nickel is the most common cause of contact allergy in kids,” said Robin Gehris, a pediatric dermatologist at UPMC. The same goes for adults if you exclude plants such as poison ivy.

Traditionally, dermatologists tested for nickel allergies if they saw a rash develop where piercings, belt buckles or zippers touched the skin, but in the past few years, more and more electronic devices have been shown to cause rashes in those who are allergic to nickel.

“We’‍ve seen cases of dermatitis on the left side of the face from cell phone usage,” Dr. Gehris said. Rashes also have appeared on patients’ thighs, where they balance their laptop.

For Dr. Gehris, this report is an alert for clinicians who might not think to test for a nickel allergy if they see a patient with a rash in an unexpected place.

In May 2013, the subject of Monday’‍s report was referred to Sharon Jacob, a San Diego dermatologist. The boy’s dermatitis would not go away. The first thing Dr. Jacob did was to test him for a nickel allergy, but when the results came back positive, Dr. Jacob was stumped as to what the source of the allergy could be. Her team put him on a nickel-reduced diet and made sure he had no contact with the snaps and buckles that often cause these reactions, “but he was just worsening and worsening and worsening,” she said.

Finally, they thought of the iPad, which he used on a daily basis. When they tested it for nickel content, it showed the metal was present. His itching and scaly red skin subsided as soon as he began to use a case that covered the back of the tablet.

Dr. Jacob said she repeatedly called and wrote to Apple asking about the use of nickel in the iPad but received no reply. Apple has responded to the publication of her report by saying that this kind of nickel allergy is very rare. “We rigorously test our products to make sure they are safe for all our customers,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email.

Nickel allergies are almost never life-threatening, but they can be itchy enough to keep youngsters home from school, as in the case Dr. Jacob reported.

While the number of incidences of nickel allergies is going up, most doctors think the increase has to do with the growing number of body piercings at an early age. For example, when the nickel in an earring comes into contact with blood, it can create a hypersensitivity. Later, when the person touches something containing nickel, their immune system will overreact and cause a rash.

Avoidance is the best way to get rid of a nickel-caused rash.

Eric Boodman: or 412-263-3772.

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