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Allergies health centre

Could you be allergic to your mobile phone?

A new study has found that some popular types of mobile phone contain traces of metals that can cause allergic reactions in some people, including rashes and itching.
By Grant Stewart

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?


Most people now have access to a mobile phone. In the US, 285 million people and counting have a mobile phone, and people are using their phones more than ever and for longer periods. Early mobiles couldn’t do much more than make phone calls, but modern smartphones offer services such as text messaging, gaming, internet, email, cameras, and music playback.

Smartphones all contain some metal parts, and some metals are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

For example, we know that nickel and cobalt can cause reactions including redness, swelling, itching, blistering, and sometimes scarring. Around 17 in 100 women and 3 in 100 men have allergic reactions to nickel, which is sometimes used in jewellery and make-up.

Researchers in the US looked at 72 phones belonging to hospital patients, including 25 iPhones, 17 Blackberrys, nine Motorola Droids, and 21 flip phones made by Sony, LG, Motorola, and Samsung, to see if they contained nickel or cobalt. They tested the buttons, keypads, speakers, cameras, and metal panels.

What does the new study say?

The researchers found that, of the 72 phones they tested:

  • 29 percent of Blackberrys contained nickel
  • 91 percent of flip phones contained nickel
  • 52 percent of flip phones contained cobalt
  • No Blackberrys contained cobalt
  • No iPhones or Motorola Droids contained either metal.

The researchers concluded that iPhones and Droids were less likely to contain metals that may cause allergic reactions in users.

How reliable is the research?

A study this small can’t give us any clear answers about how many phones contain the metals nickel or cobalt, and especially about the differences between models. Only looking at a few of each model can’t really tell us anything about the millions of phones that weren’t tested. But this study does tell us that some phones do contain metals that might cause problems for some people. This study can’t prove that the metals in the mobile phones the researchers looked at can cause allergies or skin reactions.

This research was presented at a conference, and hasn’t been published in a recognised medical journal. This means we can’t be sure how reliable it is.

What does this mean for me?

If you don’t have any of the allergy symptoms, such as rashes or itching where your phone touches your face, you don’t need to worry about whether your phone contains these metals. However, if you have symptoms, or if you know you are allergic to any metals, you may want to think about using your phone less. You could also think about using devices that can stop you coming into so much direct contact with your phone, such as plastic cases, wireless ear pieces, and clear film screens.

Published on November 09, 2012

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