It’s true – you can be allergic to your iPad

179109507An iPad can do lots of useful things, from giving directions to turning off the lights to helping children learn. Doctors recently discovered one more thing it can do, though this one not so useful: It can give you a rash.

A variety of personal electronic devices, including cellphones and laptops, contain nickel, a metal that is a common allergen. Nickel is also found in other everyday products, such as coins, inexpensive jewelry, eyeglass frames, belt buckles, zippers and snaps on clothing. An allergy to nickel often presents itself in the form of an itchy, red rash.

The iPad as another potential source of nickel exposure was highlighted by a report last month in the journal Pediatrics, which detailed the case of an 11-year-old boy who was treated at a San Diego children’s hospital for a rash all over his body.  The rash had been present for about six months, and had not responded to standard treatment with topical corticosteroids. The boy was tested and found to have a nickel allergy.

Over the past six months, the boy also had been using an iPad with increasing frequency, the report said. The iPad was tested and found to contain a chemical in nickel in its outer coating.

The iPad – a first-generation model bought in 2010 – was put in a protective case so it did not touch the boy’s skin, and he recovered.

“This is a pretty novel case, as the iPad is something people might not think about as the source of the allergen,” said Dr. Gerry Lee, an allergist and immunologist with University of Louisville Physicians. “But actually, it’s fairly common for devices that are coated in metal, or for metallic-looking devices, to contain nickel.”

While anyone can have a nickel allergy, for parents this is especially important to be aware of as portable electronic devices are becoming increasingly popular among children, and are frequently used in education.

It’s not clear whether all iPad models or iPhones contain nickel. Apple spokesman Chris Gaither told The Associated Press the company’s “products are made from the highest quality materials and meet the same strict standards set for jewelry” by the U.S. Consumer Safety Products Commission. He also said “we have found that allergies like the one reported in this case are extremely rare.”

Without testing, it’s hard to know whether any item contains nickel, and with so many products that have it, it’s hard to avoid, Dr. Lee said.

Earlier this year, FitBit, maker of the fitness tracker wristband, said it was looking into reports from some users of its FitBit Force that the device irritated their skin. The company said the Force contained nickel as part of stainless steel used in the device.

For most people, nickel “isn’t usually an issue, unless you are allergic to it,” Dr. Lee said. “The best thing to do is avoid products with nickel, if you can, or cover the material with something else, such as sturdy tape.”

While a rash from a nickel allergy isn’t typically serious, it can be uncomfortable. It’s usually treated with topical creams and oral antihistamines, Dr. Lee said.  In advanced cases, treatment with steroids may be necessary, or if the rash becomes infected, antibiotics.

In addition to a rash, signs of a nickel allergy include bumps, redness or dry patches on the skin. In severe cases, blisters may appear.

To diagnose a nickel allergy, a “patch” test – where a small amount of the possible allergen is placed on the skin and covered with a patch – is used, Dr. Lee said. After 48 hours, the patch is removed. Any redness or irritation at the site indicates an allergy.

Some surgical stainless steel implants also contain nickel. If you have a nickel allergy and are planning to undergo orthopedic surgery such as a hip or knee replacement, it’s important to mention the allergy to your doctor, who can recommend an alternative material, Dr. Lee said.