Study: Smartphone Surfaces Contain Allergens, Toxins

People suffering from allergies or asthma may consider cleaning their smartphones more often, as their surfaces contain allergens and other toxins, a new study suggests.

Research presented at this year’s American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Louisville, KY, looked at the levels of allergens and toxins on smartphone surfaces.

“Smartphones showed elevated and variable levels of BDG and endotoxin, and cat and dog allergens were found on smartphones of pet owners,” says Hana Ruran, lead author of the study.

BDGs or β-D glucans, which are found on many surfaces, cause chronic airway and irritant symptoms. Meanwhile, endotoxin is a potent inflammatory agent which can cause fever, shaking chills, septic shock, toxic pneumonitis, and respiratory symptoms.

The researchers created phone models that had a similar size and surface to a real phone and wiped the front surface of the phone models as part of the test. Using electrostatic wipes (ESW), researchers sampled simulated phone models of 15 volunteers and then measured the “phones” for allergens, BDG, and endotoxin levels.

The study found that a combination of chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chlorine was the most effective in reducing BDG and endotoxin, and a combination of benzyl benzoate and tannic acid most effectively reduced cat and dog allergens on smartphones.

Researchers note, however, that these chemicals are not commercially available in the same concentrations used in the study.

“The study demonstrates exposure to inhalant allergens and molecules that trigger innate immune reactions from a source most people haven’t considered. If you have allergies or asthma, you may want to think about cleaning your smartphone more often to minimize exposure to these allergens and asthma triggers,” says Peter Thorne, PhD, professor in the University of Iowa Department of Public Health and co-author of the study.

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