Erythema Ab Igme: Is My Laptop Burning My Skin?

Could your laptop be hazardous to your health?

Back in the days before central heating, it was fairly common for many people, particularly the elderly and infirm, to develop a skin condition known as erythema ab igme. “The name comes from Latin menaing ‘red from fire’,” says Dr. Kellie Reed, dermatologist at Sanova Dermatology. “Traditionally, it was caused by prolonged and direct exposure to radiant heat sources such as fire or space heaters.” The condition would first manifest as reddening skin and a light, itchy red rash. In more serious cases or in cases of repeated exposure, the condition would cause skin thinning or atrophy and sores or lacy, reticulated red lesions on the skin.

The move to modern heating systems, which do not rely on open flames or concentrated heat sources, largely decreased reports of this condition.

“Unfortunately, the computer age has caused a new wave of erythema ab igme cases,” says Dr. Reed. “And interestingly, it corresponds exactly how most of us used our laptop!”

Most people do not realize it, but the bottom of your average laptop can easily get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature, which may feel pleasantly warm, is where the problem lies, especially if it’s resting on the top of your thighs.

“Cells in the outer layer of skin, or epidermis, generally start dying if heated up to around 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit),” says Dr. Miriam Hanson, dermatologist in Austin, Texas. “This is also just about the level at which you would register something as painfully hot.”

However, due to heat transfer, it is very likely that the skin exposed to the underside of your laptop never gets quite that warm, but hovers right around it for prolonged periods of time while you use your laptop. “This high temperature without pain is why laptops are considered high risk,” Dr. Hanson explains.

Anyone who uses a laptop on their lap is susceptible to developing this condition. Many who have it do not even realize that they have it or that it can develop into a serious skin condition.

If you suspect you have this condition, your dermatologist should be able to easily diagnose it. Treatment in most cases is as simple removing the heat source from the affected area. Stop using your laptop in your lap or use a lap desk or other barrier to separate the bottom of your laptop and your skin.

“Once the heat source is removed, most cases heal on their own,” explains Dr. Reed. In severe cases, a topical cream or pill might be prescribed to help heal the affected skin.

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Contact us for more information on erythema ab igme or any other questions about skin changes and disease. Our expert dermatologists look forward to helping you.

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