Nickel allergy? It may be time to upgrade your cell phone.


Nickel allergy is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, occurring in about 17% of women and 3 percent of men. Most often, nickel is associated with being in jewelry such as earrings, necklace clasps, and watchbands. However, if you suffer from nickel allergy, you may want to swap in your old flip phone or Blackberry for an iPhone or Droid, say doctors with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). 

Cellphones are the subject of the latest study into nickel content, as more than 285 million Americans subscribe to a mobile service. Allergists with the Winthrop University Hospital in New York tested a total of 72 cellphones including five popular brands for nickel and another common metal allergen, cobalt. (Most patients allergic to nickel are also allergic to cobalt.) The phones were swabbed with a solution that detects nickel in at least five places, including the keypad and the speakers. 

Allergies to metals such as nickel usually develop after repeated or prolonged exposure to items containing nickel. Once you develop a nickel allergy, however, you will always be sensitive to the metal and should avoid contact. Symptoms include redness, swelling, itching, eczema, blistering, skin lesions and, occasionally, scarring.

Lead study author Dr. Tania Mucci says that “Approximately one-third of all Blackberries contain nickel, but neither cobalt nor nickel was detected in iPhones or Droids.” Ninety percent of older model flip phones also revealed having levels of both metals. Patients with nickel or cobalt allergies tend to have symptoms along the cheek bones, jaw line and ears.

Newer phones are using lighter materials that include more plastic casings and touch-screens, which reduce the amount of metal on the exterior of the phone.

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

Reference: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology


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