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Cell Phones Linked to Skin Allergies

Oct 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Cell phone use has been linked to all sorts of health problems from male infertility to cancer.  Now, doctors are seeing increasing numbers of people complaining of unexplained rashes that show up on the ears and cheeks.  Doctors are advised to be on alert for a skin allergy caused by too much mobile phone use, the British Association of Dermatologists said this week.

Citing published studies, the group said that a red or itchy rash—now known as "mobile phone dermatitis”—affects those people who, after spending long periods of time on mobile phones, develop an allergic reaction to the phone’s nickel surface.  “It is worth doctors bearing this condition in mind if they see a patient with a rash on the cheek or ear that cannot otherwise be explained," the British Association said.  The British group noted that many doctors were unaware mobile phones could cause such a reaction.

"In mobile phone dermatitis, the rash would typically occur on the cheek or ear, depending on where the metal part of the phone comes into contact with the skin," the group said in a statement.  "In theory it could even occur on the fingers if you spend a lot of time texting on metal menu buttons."  Nickel, which is a common metal found in a wide variety of consumer products, including cell phones, is also one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, according to United States’ Mayo Clinic.  Meanwhile, Lionel Bercovitch of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and colleagues tested 22 popular handsets earlier this year, sampling phones from eight different manufacturers.  The group found nickel in 10 of the devices.

Most recently, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic warned that cell phone use, including hands-free devices—can affect male fertility and warned users to ensure that the devices are not kept in proximity to their testicles.  Because men who use hand-free cell phone devices tend to keep the phones in their pants pocket or clipped to the waist belts when the phones are in talk mode, they may be exposing their testicles to damaging radiofrequency electromagnetic waves, explains Ashok Agarwal, PhD, head of the andrology laboratory and the director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Glickman Urologoical and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Also, Dr. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Centers, who is best known for having made headlines recently when he issued a staff advisory on the potential risks of cell phone use, is looking to create a research project focusing on long-term cell phone users.  “Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects, including cancer," Herberman wrote in the memo.  Heberman’s suggestions includ limiting exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones, such as shortening the length of conversations and distancing cell phones from one’s head by text messaging or using headsets or speakerphones; he recommended children not use cell phones except in emergencies.

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