Written by Kara Morris
Thursday, November 10, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A new study by an 18-year-old high school student suggests that smartphone in your hand could trigger your allergies.
A science fair project by Hannah Roran, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, found that cell phones are often laden with cat and dog allergens, bacteria and fungi.
“My phone is always with me. It’s always in my hand. I’ve never put it down for anything,” said study author Hannah Roran, a freshman at Hopkinton High School. “And I have a lot of allergies. I’m just interested in doing something that affects me.”
Bottom line: It’s a good idea to wipe the surface of your phone, especially if you have allergies.
The research is presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) in Louisville, Kentucky.
“The study demonstrates exposure to inhaled allergens and molecules that elicit innate immune responses from a source most people would not have thought of,” study co-author Peter Thorne, Roran’s mentor, said in an ACAAI press release.
“If you have allergies or asthma, you may want to consider cleaning your smartphone more often to reduce exposure to allergens and asthma triggers,” said Thorne, a professor at the University of Iowa School of Public Health in Iowa City.
For the study, the researchers created phone models that mimic the size and surface of a real phone and worked with 15 volunteers. Each participant used electrostatic wipes, and ran them through the forms. The volunteers repeated this several times a day for a week.
Thorne’s lab tested the wipes to see what was captured.
The researchers found elevated and variable levels of so-called β-D glucans (BDG). This is a sign of mold and can affect the airways. Roran and Thorne also found different levels of endotoxin, a type of bacteria.
“They were different on different phones, but they were very prevalent,” Roran said.
Pet owners’ phones contain a lot of allergens for cats and dogs, Rouran said, but the phones of people who didn’t report their household pets have also been shown to contain pet allergens.
I also tested the products to try to determine what might clean allergens, bacteria, and fungi from the phone.
Roran found that some hard-to-reach chemicals work best, depending on whether a person is scanning their phone for allergens, fungi, or bacteria. It included a chlorhexidine/cetylpyridinium blend to reduce BDG and endotoxin. For reducing allergens for cats and dogs, the combination of benzyl benzoate and tannic acid worked best.
Roran said isopropyl alcohol wipes work, too, but not so. Wiping with a dry cloth did not work.
About 85% of American households have smartphones, according to the 2018 US Census. The study authors note that people view their phones about 14 billion times a day.
Allergens are everywhere, said Dr. Payal Gupta, an allergist and medical director for LifeMD in New York City. But she wondered if the phone cases had different materials, some of which might catch particles more easily.
“The important thing to remember is that allergens can stick to our hair. They can stick to our clothes. They can stick to our shoes. Of course, it makes sense that they could stick to our phones and phone covers and things like that,” said Gupta, who was not involved in the study. .
But Gupta said allergy experts don’t want patients to become too concerned about this.
At certain times of the year, Gupta said, people with seasonal allergies can help themselves by taking off their shoes when they go indoors from outside. They can change their clothes and wash their hands.
Referring to this study, Gupta said, it may also be helpful to wash your phone cases, and see what might be a safe way to clean your phone’s screen without damaging it.
“If you really have severe allergies, maybe you shower as soon as you get home, but definitely before you go to bed, so if the allergens are in your hair, you can wash your hair,” Gupta said.
Gupta advised if you are allergic to dust mites, which is really a tube mite allergy, you should use a damp cloth instead of a dry cloth. Wash sheets weekly in hot water to get rid of dust mite debris.
For those who use the smartphone without cleaning it regularly, I suggested trying not to touch your eyes right after touching your phone.
“Especially if your allergies affect your eyes,” Gupta said.
Meanwhile, Rouran said she’s more aware of the potential contaminants her phone picks up.
“I really love science and care about the environment and how we can improve the environment by developing something new that can help reduce exposure,” Roran said. “It makes me think a little more about my phone.”
However, “I don’t know if I’m still good at cleaning my phone,” she admitted.
Results presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has more allergens.
Sources:Payel Gupta, MD, FACAAI, Medical Director, LifeMD, New York City; Hannah Roran, high school student, Massachusetts; American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting, November 10-14, 2022, Louisville, Kentucky.