Smartphones are ‘reservoirs of allergens’ and other toxins, study warns

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Does swiping through your smartphone regularly make you sneeze? A new study finds mobile devices are “reservoirs of allergens” and other toxins — requiring regular cleanings to keep you healthy.

Millions of people worldwide carry mobile phones, with the technology becoming a central component of modern life. A recent report by the app monitoring firm App Annie found that, on average, people spend 4.8 hours a day looking at their small screens.

Now, researchers reporting at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting say these handheld gadgets can accumulate allergens and other environmental toxins. The study revealed that phones contain elevated levels of cat and dog allergens, as well as β-D glucans (BDG) and endotoxin.

Smartphones showed elevated and variable levels of BDG and endotoxin, and cat and dog allergens were found on smartphones of pet owners” says lead author Hana Ruran from Boston Children’s Hospital in a media release. “BDGs are found in fungal cell walls and have been found in many environments and surfaces causing chronic airway and irritant symptoms – making BDGs a consistent marker to study problematic mold. Endotoxin is a potent inflammatory agent and a marker of exposure to Gram negative bacteria.”

What do you need to really clean your phone?

To conduct the study, the team created phone models that had a similar size and surface to a real phone. They wiped the front surface of the phone model as part of the test. Electrostatic wipes (ESW) helped them to collect samples from models used by 15 volunteers. They then measured each sample for allergens, BDG, and endotoxin levels.

The chemicals used in the solutions for cleaning (chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, tannic acid, and benzyl benzoate) are available for purchase from laboratory or chemical suppliers. However, they are not commercially available in the concentrations used during the study. The team also used isopropyl alcohol wipes to test their ability to clean.

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“Combination chlorhexidine/cetylpyridinium was the most effective in reducing BDG and endotoxin and combination benzyl benzoate/tannic acid most effectively reduced cat and dog allergens on smartphones,” says study co-author Peter Thorne, PhD, professor in the University of Iowa Department of Public Health. “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.”

The findings appear in the journal Annals of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.

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