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Kids can get nickel allergy rash from iPad, study shows

An Apple iPad caused an itchy body rash in an 11-year-old boy recently treated at a San Diego hospital, according to a report in Pediatrics.

Associated Press/File

An Apple iPad caused an itchy body rash in an 11-year-old boy recently treated at a San Diego hospital, according to a report in Pediatrics.

An 11-year-old boy with a history of allergic skin rashes came into his dermatologist’s office with a particularly troubling case that wasn’t alleviated with the usual treatment of topical corticosteroid cream. It turns out, he had a severe allergy to the metal nickel, found in the aluminum casing of his first-generation iPad.

The boy was advised to use “the Smart Case, which provides overall coverage of the iPad,” wrote the University of California, San Diego, study authors in a report published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. (He had been using just a screen protector, so the aluminum case was directly touching his skin.)

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“Patients should be instructed to test the case or cover for nickel before purchase and to select one that is nickel-free,” the dermatologists added.

Apple said in a statement responding to the case report that the company has “found that allergies like the one reported in this case are extremely rare. Apple products are made from the highest quality materials and meet the same strict standards set for jewelry by both the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission and their counterparts in Europe.”

Itchy allergic skin rashes, known as allergic contact dermatitis, has been rising in children, and nickel is the most common allergen detected in these cases. Recent research suggests that about 16 percent of children have some sensitivity to nickel on a skin allergy test and about half of this group develops skin rashes from coming into contact with nickel.

The metal has been found in laptop computers, cell phones, razors, wind-up toys, and video-game controllers -- and yes, nickel coins.

In fact, some users of a fitness tracker wristband called Fitbit Force developed skin rashes from the product that the company attributed to a possible nickel allergy, offering affected users a refund on their $130 purchase last January.

Unfortunately, those with known nickel allergies have no way of knowing whether the technological gadget they purchase contains nickel. That’s why the study researchers advised testing any covers for Apple products.

Federal law requires food manufacturers to list allergenic foods that may be contained in their products — like peanuts, soy, or fish — but no such laws exist for allergens in products that we don’t eat.

(There may be less urgency since contact allergies typically aren’t life-threatening, but such rashes can make the sufferer feel miserable for a few days.)

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of nickel allergy include: rash or bumps on the skin, itching, redness or dry patches that may resemble a burn, and, in severe cases, blisters filled with fluid.

Dermatologists diagnose nickel allergies via a skin patch test, applying a very low concentration of potential allergens, including nickel, to the skin and then applying a patch that remains for two days. Any redness or inflammation indicates an allergy.

Treatment largely involves avoiding objects containing nickel. Topical creams that contain corticosteroids or oral antihistamines can also be used to manage symptoms. An oral steroid, like prednisone, might be prescribed if the reaction is severe or a rash covers a large area, but it has side effects like weight gain and increased risk of infections.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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