Trending Now: Is Your Fitness Device Causing a Rash?

Trending Now: Is Your Fitness Device Causing a Rash?

There are increasing reports of people with rashes following use of Fitbit and similar devices that are worn around the wrist, and dermatologists are in agreement: the rash is likely a result of an allergic or irritant contact dermatitis. These are related, but different, conditions that appear after days of contact and may be red, itchy, blistering, and/or burning.

Allergic contact dermatitis is due to a true allergy to a component of the device in the same way that someone has an allergy to poison ivy. An irritant contact dermatitis, however, could be due (as manufacturers of FitBit and other devices are claiming) to soaps, sweat, and water associated with prolonged use of the device. Sweat is the most likely culprit. After all, these devices are worn for many hours at a time, and they have to be close enough to your wrist to monitor your pulse.

Irritant contact dermatitis makes up about 80% of all skin allergies. However, manufacturers of these devices have acknowledged the likelihood that some users are experiencing a true allergy to a component of the device. One way to know if you are having a true allergic reaction is when the rash is under parts of the wristband that are metal. Most metals contain nickel (surprisingly even some that claim to be nickel free), which is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. Another indication – a true allergy tends to be very itchy while an irritant dermatitis tends to be just that – irritating with a mild redness and often a burning sensation. To prove that you are getting a nickel allergy from the device, you would have to perform a special test on the product called a “dimethylglyoxime test” that uses a dye that turns pink when nickel is present. You would also need to prove that you are, in fact, allergic to nickel by being patch tested.

What if you are among the 80% who simply have an irritant dermatitis due to the constant contact with the skin and the presence of sweat, soap residue and other irritants? The makers of FitBit have some tips for the proper wear and care of their products at https://www.fitbit.com/productcare. The bottom line is keeping your device clean without using irritating soaps, and not wearing it too tight.

If you are allergic to nickel, you might want to check out new “clipable” devices. You can clip them on the outside of clothing and still get great information about the steps you take daily – but there are limitations on other data such as heart rate. There are also nickel barrier solutions that you can apply to exposed metal on your device that may reduce the allergic reaction.

Our physicians can prescribe topical creams and can also provide relief with a shot of steroid medication if your rash persists after discontinuing the use of your device.
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