I am absolutely concerned about it, said Stephen P Stone, the director of clinical research in dermatology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 20% of the population is allergic to nickel. The reactions can be unpleasant, but not fatal. Typically they include blistering, redness and dry skin.
In February, Fitbit, the maker of a popular brand of devices that measure physical activity, had to recall more than a million of its wristbands after receiving complaints about adverse skin reactions. In a statement on its website, the company said that users were most likely suffering from allergic contact dermatitis, a red and itchy rash, caused by either the adhesive or the nickel content.
That frustrated some users, especially those who had not previously suffered from a nickel allergy. Fitbit is facing legal action from consumers who want more information about the Fitbit Force, the line of products the company recalled. One of the things thats really frustrating is that Fitbit will not say what caused the reaction, said Alexandra Schweitzer, a health insurance executive from Massachusetts who said she developed what looked like an infected bug bite from her Force last year.
Several years ago, dermatologists began seeing allergic reactions to cellphones, but some say the scope of the problem has since expanded. In 2011, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts recalled about 1,200 childrens watches because of nickel in the watchs back, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the independent government agency in charge of recalls. A recent article in The Journal of Pediatrics pointed to a rise in nickel allergies among children and cited an 11-year-old boy who most likely had an allergic reaction to his iPad.
With the increasing prevalence of nickel allergy in the pediatric population, it is important for clinicians to continue to consider metallic-appearing electronics and personal effects as potential sources of nickel exposure, the article stated.
Nickel exposure from childrens toys in the US poses a unique problem, because researchers say that frequent exposure to nickel can create sensitivity. I think nickel is still a really big issue in the United States, said Bruce A Brod, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvanias medical school. Now were seeing some cases from iPads and laptop computers and some of the video games where there are metal pods.
In an email, Chris Gaither, a spokesman for Apple, said that reactions described in the Pediatrics article were extremely rare, and that the company voluntarily adhered to international nickel guidelines. Apple products are made from the highest-quality materials and meet the same strict standards set for jewelry by both the US Consumer Safety Product Commission and their counterparts in Europe. We rigorously test our products to make sure they are safe for all our customers, he said.
When a recall is fast-tracked, as with the Force, the Consumer Product Safety Commission rarely performs its own testing. That leaves consumers at the mercy of the company to disclose the source of a problem.
The company said it did not believe that the lawsuit had merit. The product safety agency has already received similar complaints for another Fitbit wristband, the Fitbit Flex, according to the safety agencys online database.
Not all products that contain nickel pose a threat. How much nickel is in a product affects how much nickel seeps out of it, and Europe has guidelines that companies must follow. The European directive has limited the use of nickel, but in the United States we havent, and it results in suffering and health care expenditure, Brod said.