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Electronic Devices, Wearable Technology May Trigger Nickel Allergies

BOSTON (CBS) -- Nickel allergies are fairly common, and for most people, the problem can be traced to jewelry.

A red, itchy rash prompted Sue McCann to go see her dermatologist. She was surprised that it was caused by the nickel in her fitness tracker.

Nickel Allergy
Sue McCann's fitness tracker caused her to have a nickel allergy. (WBZ-TV)

Her dermatologist, Dr. Laura Ferris, is seeing more patients with similar problems.

"Traditionally, we've seen nickel allergies in (objects) like earrings, or from belt buckles, but now we are tending to see it a lot on the wrist from electronic fitness trackers," she says.

One popular model was recalled after thousands of people complained of skin irritations. Nickel was found in the casing.

Some wearable technologies are coming with a warning that devices can contain traces of nickel and could cause allergic reactions.

Nickel Allergy Fitness Tracker
A fitness tracker. (WBZ-TV)

"Nickel reactions can range from a little local rash, infections of the skin," says Dr. Lawrence Eichenfield, a dermatologist. "It can impact on sleep. It can certainly impact someone's occupation," says Dr. Lawrence Eichenfield, a dermatologist.

Other devices are also causing problems for people with skin sensitivities. A bulletin from the American Academy of Dermatology said recent reports suggest that some electronic devices including cell phones, laptops, and tablets may contain nickel.

"People who are really sensitive will break out from exposure, even to stainless steel, because the amount of nickel that gets released is enough to make them sensitive and show a reaction or rash," Eichenfield said.

McCann is now trying a suggestion from the manufacturer of her device.

"I have taken to wearing my electronic fitness tracker very loosely so that I can continue to use my device," she said.

Some manufacturers say they are working closely with dermatologists to make sure their products are less likely to cause an adverse reaction.

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