If you're allergic to nickel and you want to use mobile devices like the iPad, please also use a case

Allergies are horrible. I say that as a person who's allergic to almost everything on the basic scratch test, and more. Plants, animals, minerals — all of them can induce reactions from the annoying to the miserable to the health-threatening. That includes nickel, which for years has made some people very, very careful about the type and purity of the metals they allow near their skin. Traditionally that's been jewelry frequently worn. Now it's also mobile devices, including the iPad and iPhone, frequently used.The Washington Post sites this example from Pediatrics:

[An 11-year-old with an itchy rash was] treated at a San Diego hospital, had a history of skin issues, but a different rash developed all over his body and wouldn't respond to typical treatment. His skin tested positive for nickel, one of the most common allergy-inducing metals, and doctors traced it back to an iPad he had used with increasing frequency the past six months. The iPad tested positive for nickel as well, according to the report.

According to the article in Pediatrics, the boy was advised to use the Smart Case, "which provides overall coverage of the iPad, as opposed to the Smart Cover, which only provides coverage of the screen." When he did that, the rash significantly improved.

First of all, while I'm sure the "The boy who was allergic to his iPad. Not a joke." headline will get WaPo a lot more attention than the more factually accurate "The boy who was allergic to the nickel/metal in his iPad" would, it will sadly, shamefully also disproportionately scare and confuse people, and that's a rather shitty thing to do.

People can't be allergic to mobile devices any more than they can be allergic to supermarkets or buildings. People are allergic to specific things, like metals, foods, and molds. And to manage those allergies, people need information in specific terms.

Nickel/metal allergies aren't new, and extend well beyond modern, mobile devices. (Although modern mobile devices do provide yet another vector for contact.)

Here are the most common causes of nickel allergies, according to the Mayo clinic:

  • Jewelry for body piercings
  • Other jewelry, including rings, bracelets, necklaces and jewelry clasps
  • Watchbands
  • Clothing fasteners, such as zippers, snaps and bra hooks
  • Belt buckles
  • Eyeglass frames
  • Coins
  • Metal tools
  • Cellphones
  • Keys

I have a history of nickel/metal allergies in my family. Many of us discovered them for the first time either when we got piercings, or metal watches for the first time. Mobile devices, especially tablets like the iPad, could certainly be used at younger ages, so if you likewise have a history of nickel/metal allergies in the family, or simply notice symptoms, you'll want to be careful, including putting your devices in cases.

With children, even if there aren't any nickel/metal allergies involved, I'd recommend cases anyway, no matter what. They make iPod touches and iPads even easier to hold and even harder to damage.

As an adult, I still can't wear some types of watch bands for long periods of time, but I haven't had any problems using mobile devices frequently throughout the day. Someone with a more severe reaction could very well need a case. (Plastics can sometimes cause allergic reactions as well, though I've not seen any research into mobile devices and accessories when it comes to plastic allergies.)

So, the bottom line is, as usual, don't panic, just pay attention. If you have a history of nickel/metal allergies and you notice a reaction, get a case. If you don't and you notice a reaction, either in yourself or someone in your family, get a case and make an appointment with an allergist.

Dealing with allergies is tough, but it beats the alternatives. If you have any contact allergies, including nickel/metal, let me know how you've dealth with them!