Are You Allergic to Your Smartphone? Study Suggests it's Covered in Allergens

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People touch their smartphones more than 2,600 times per day, according to a 2016 report. And if you’re susceptible to allergies or live with asthma, your smartphone could be making you sick.

That’s according to a new study being presented this week at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Louisville, KY.

Using simulated smartphone models, the study showed elevated levels of cat and dog allergens, as well as β-D glucans (BDG) and endotoxin. BDG is found in fungal cell walls, and endotoxins are bacterial toxins found in the environment.

“Smartphones showed elevated and variable levels of BDG and endotoxin, and cat and dog allergens were found on smartphones of pet owners,” Hana Ruran, a high school senior from Hopkinton, MA, research intern at Boston Children’s Hospital, and lead author on the study, in a news release.

The researchers concluded that people with allergies or asthma should clean their smartphones frequently to reduce their risk of allergies or asthma triggers.

Dr. Payel Gupta, a national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, told Healthline that allergens can be found everywhere — including hair, clothes, and shoes — so it makes sense they’d also live on our smartphones.

Even cat and dog allergens, which are found in pet dander, can stick to any surface.

“If you touch your phone and then you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, then the allergens can enter your nasal or respiratory tract or eye mucosa,” Gupta said.

In addition, allergens in the eye or respiratory tract can cause the release of histamine and cause allergy symptoms.

“Our phones go everywhere with us, we set them down on all sorts of surfaces, [and] they accumulate all kinds of debris,” Dr. William B. Miller, Jr., infectious disease expert, evolutionary biologist, and author of “Bioverse: How the Cellular World Contains the Secrets to Life’s Biggest Questions,” told Healthline.

While most allergens can’t be avoided, you can reduce your risk of allergy or asthma triggers by cleaning your smartphone.

For the study, researchers used ElectroStatic Wipes (ESW) to clean the smartphones of 15 volunteers, which were measured for allergens, BDG, and endotoxin levels.

Researchers also studied other cleaning inventions on simulated phone models. To determine the effectiveness of various cleaning agents in reducing BDG and endotoxin, researchers used the following chemicals:

  • 70% isopropyl alcohol
  • Clorox non-bleach (0.184% benzyl and ethyl benzyl ammonium chloride)
  • 0.12% chlorhexidine
  • 0.05% cetylpyridinium
  • 3% benzyl benzoate
  • 3% tannic acid wipes

Researchers also designated a control group in which no cleaning solution was used.

The results showed that a combination of chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium was the most effective for reducing BDG and endotoxin on smartphones. In addition, a combination of benzyl benzoate and tannic acid significantly reduced cat and dog allergens.

But chemical compounds such as these are not necessarily accessible.

According to Gupta, simply removing your case from your phone — if you have one — and cleaning it with soap and water could probably do the trick.

“Soap and water would be allergy-friendly and not leave residues that could then cause chemical irritations,” Gupta said.

As far as cleaning the phone itself, it’s a good idea to consult the manufacturer’s manual for guidelines. For instance, AppleCare recommends removing any cables from your iPhone and turning it off before cleaning with a “soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth.”

You should also try to avoid getting any moisture in openings or crevices.

If you have an iPhone, Apple Care does not recommend applying the following cleaning products directly on your device:

  • window cleaners
  • household cleaners
  • compressed air
  • aerosol sprays
  • solvents
  • ammonia
  • abrasives
  • cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide

There’s no exact formula for how often you should clean your smartphone, but it may be a good idea to make it a regular habit.

“There’s no downside to cleaning a device you use regularly,” Miller said.

“Cleaning your phone to remove some allergens is a drop in the sea of potential allergic triggers that constantly surround you.”

If you live with allergies or asthma, you may wish to clean your smartphone more often, as was recommended by the researchers.

According to Gupta, people with seasonal allergies are advised to do more frequent cleaning to reduce their risk of triggers.

“As allergists, we recommend that people who have seasonal allergies take off their outdoor clothes and shoes when they come in from the outside,” Gupta said. “Allergens can also stick to hair, so washing hair at night before getting into bed can be helpful.”

If you’re allergic to dust mites, Gupta recommends cleaning your sheets once a week with hot water.

A new study found that smartphones are a reservoir for common allergens, including pet dander, which may increase the risk of a reaction if you have allergies or asthma.

Cleaning objects around the house — particularly your smartphone — can help prevent allergy or asthma triggers, especially when done regularly.

A damp cloth is recommended over many common household cleaning products when cleaning your smartphone. You might try a diluted solution of water and rubbing alcohol but may wish to refer to your phone’s manual for additional guidance.

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