If you're allergic to nickel and frequently use mobile devices like the iPad, consider using 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!

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

24 Comments
  • Like you, I reacted to almost everything in the scratch test as a 10yo. Fortunately, metals never bothered me. My 20mo daughter recently developed a rash, but it seems to be related to mosquito bites and close to 100 degree heat here in Texas. I'll certainly pay close attention. (Our iPhone and iPads are in cases and other than eating utensils she doesn't really come in contact with metals) Sent from the iMore App
  • Mosquito bites are bad for me too. I hope she's doing well!
  • I agree with you, that title was a shady way to get attention and will surely confuse many people who only glance at the title and the first few lines of a story.
  • Do you routinely play with mosquitoes more than your iPad? One mosquito bite leaves one mark...unless you get malaria or dengue, or chic-v...companies shouldn't sell stuff that contains known allergens of which affect large populations without a warning label...people demanded a recall of the Fitbit Force if I recall correctly... I wonder if Apple is wiling to buy everybody a case, or offer to buy back the units people refuse a case for? Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • In my neck of the woods, my daughter is exposed to Mosquitos far more often than I let her near my iPhone or iPad, and at less than 2 years old I don't like using Off or similar products with all the chemicals on her. She is sensitive to them, and sunblock too. Sent from the iMore App
  • You're talking about an aspect of LIFE.... You CHOOSE to use an iPad..
    Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Damn right! And no problems noticed here. I was simply answering Rene's question from his article. Don't be a douche. Sent from the iMore App
  • So, what you meant to say, was you're not allergic to nickel, right, douche? Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Never said I was. Be more constructive with your feedback. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes! Mosquitos bad!!! I get welts and itch for hours. It really sucks because I live in the "Old Dirty South." Strangely, I'm also allergic to frog legs. Can't even eat anything cooked in the same grease. And now anyone reading this is thinking, "damn, what a redneck!"
  • Join the club, when I moved to the USA I lived in the upper midwest and ended up in hospital because of Mosquito bites. I have always been allergic to Wasps and Bees and other insect bites (in fact bad enough that a sting on a forearm became swollen enough that it broke the bone before they got a chance to treat the sting), I ended up with complete bruising over my legs and arms and permanent scarring and a 14 day stay in a hospital. Even now, 14 years later I react badly to mosquito bites and my daily diet consists of antihistamine and the constant carrying of an epi-pen, even after I moved down to the California Desert. Hope your little girl recovers and build an immunity to the bite.
  • I never thought of this. Thank you Rene! Sent from the iMore App
  • These sons of bitches will do anything to give Apple bad press. It is a shame that journalist are allowed to get away with this. Thanks for the article Rene. Good information to have handy. Sent from the iMore App
  • People got their panties in a wad when fitbit caused an allergic reaction... Why not do the same with Apple?
    Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • No offence to anyone with a nickel allergy, and I know that unlike most people's "allergies" an allergic reaction to nickel is in fact a real thing, but ... ... considering that nickel is used in almost all common coins at a higher proportionate amount than it is in iPads and has been for years, surely there can't be that many people affected by this "problem." The original Canadian nickel coin was 99.9% nickel metal for instance. The later versions are nickel plated steel. Nickel is a major component of most chrome platings and used itself as plating on oven racks among other things. Most pennies, (thankfully now consigned to the scrapheap of history), are copper plated nickel and the nickel shows through on any older than a year or so. Again, not denying the allergy, but our environment is just full of nickel and yet iPads are made out of aluminium, with just *traces* of nickel in the mix. The stories I read say that the kid had an allergic reaction all over his back too? Something about this story doesn't sit right with me. It reeks of Apple bashing and someone wanting their 15 minutes of fame IMO.
  • How long do you hold onto a coin, oven rack or anything else containing nickel plating as compared to your iPad? nickel allergies are caused by prolonged exposure not incidental or tertiary contact
    Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Listen no one I think is saying the kid didn't get the rash from the nickel in the iPad. The reaction at least mine is the way these articles word things to get clicks or a rise typically against Apple when nickel is in several other stuff. No doubt he got using the iPad so hopefully they follow the Smart Cover advice. No one needed to hear about Fitbit from you. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why not? Imore cried the loudest about the fitbit recall than any of the mobile nations sites...hypocritical much? Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I don't think that you understand allergies if you are going to make a comment like "the kid had an allergic reaction all over his back too? something about this story doesn't sit right with me. It reeks of Apple bashing and someone wanting their 15 minutes of fame IMO". I understand it is "your opinion", but unless you know something about what they are talking about, you really shouldn't make comments like that. I have a severe nickel allergy and only found out last year after my face was a complete rash and my eyes were swelling. Nickel allergy is a dermatological issue, which is why he got a rash. When you touch an ipad, you use your hands and then unless you wash your hands immediately after, you will be OK, but the problem is when you are going to use your ipad, you usually need to touch it after so you will wash your hands, but you will continue to touch your ipad. So then your hands touch every where on your body to scratch, rub, itch, whatever. The kid touched his back, hence the rash on his back. The nickel touches your hands and then goes where ever your hands go.
    Yes nickel is in everything including change, which we touch every day, so that affects me. So does jewlery, door handles, faucets, iphone, iphone cases, makeup, canned vegetables/fruits. The list goes on and on.
    The day before this article came out, my job gave us ipads and now I need to get a special case to cover it, as the one we were given is not going to help my allergy.
    So before jumping to conclusions, you might want to know a little more than you think you do.
  • Which case is shown in the photo? Sent from the iMore App
  • NOTE: Get a iPhone 5c if you are allergic to nickel but still you don't want a case. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's a pity Apple don't make nickel free hardware. As I can see, Applewatch will be elegant but not nickel free.
    ' If you have a history of nickel/metal allergies and you notice a reaction, get a case. ' - what I can wear for applewatch?
    I've got nickel skin very heavy problem and it may be soon need to choose another supplier to love :/
  • My son has the same exact allergy as the CA boy, around same age, etc. We live in Philadelphia and go to CHOP. He has a cobalt/blue dye, nickel allergy. It's been a year now and it took a while to figure it all out. I have a Facebook page Heavy Metal Momma with discussion of this subject. I have done numerous research. He definitely is allergic to cell phones and ipads. If there are a ton of people with devices he has a reaction.
  • I've been suffering for nearly 12 months now , first it started with sore burning hands. Itching skin on my palms and fingers until finally my skin coming off and bleeding with infection. I've had creams from my GP and several visits in tears as I have not been able to do anything . I couldn't cook , clean , wash my hair or do anything . I tried omitting everything one by one makeup, creams, anything I was touching. Nothing worked. I've recently had to bandage my hands up as the cracking skin has been so severe I couldn't bare to move them. Now the whole of this time my iPad has been my lifesaver!! Or so I thought..... I would sit at home and cut the fingers out of my cotton gloves just so that I could still use it. I remember going on holiday and being so much in pain I sat with my iPad watching tv. A few weeks ago a friend suggested to me " it could be your iPad doing this to you " and it suddenly all fell into place. My iPad was in a cover, however the cover did not cover the sides or the buttons on my iPad Air 2 . Now I have found a cover that covers the sides and low and behold my palms are not better but are definately not so bad, and for the first time I actually have some skin on them. The tips of my fingers however, are still cracked and open...because I'm thinking the cover does not cover the buttons. I contacted Apple and asked if there was such a thing as a cover to cover not only the iPad but the buttons also. Ummmm not much help, the answer was no... The man I spoke to took loads of details about my hands and I've heard nothing since. What I want to say is although some people may laugh and dismiss this, it is incredibly painful and for the last year I have not been able to live a normal life.. All my children came at Christmas and I couldn't even peel the vegetables for dinner. Many a time I have sat and cried, and it's made me feel low. Even down to putting my makeup on has been awful . All I can say is no amount of creams helped but omitting this one thing has had some effect, so I can only assume that that was the trigger. I am going to a dermatologist Monday also as at long last I have been referred. I really hope no one else gets this ....its been a nightmare !!