Do I have a Fitbit allergy?

Think you might have a Fitbit allergy?

A possible Fitbit allergy kinda seems unfair:  that the device you got to help you feel healthier may actually be CAUSING you to feel worse!

Fitbit allergy is not uncommon, but not all “Fitbit allergy” symptoms are a true Fitbit allergy.  There are also non-allergic and irritant Fitbit allergy symptoms.  They are all treated differently.  So instead of getting rid of your new health wearable (or buying a new fitness tracker device), read this article first.  The solution might be very simple.

Then you feel better and can get back trying to please the 10,000-step dictatorship of the Fitbit (my device is pretty mad at me right now… only 3,000 steps yesterday.  I can almost feel it’s disappointment)!

 

Think you might have a Fitbit allergy?
Think you might have a Fitbit allergy?  This article will help answer your questions about Fitbit allergy symptoms.

Do I have a Fitbit allergy? What are the Symptoms of a Fitbit allergy?

– Rich S

 

Answer:

Rich,

I have actually gotten this question 3 times in the past month. Not as the main reason someone comes into my office, but as a question that tends to get brought up after we discuss everything else. This makes me think that the question is fairly common, so I thank you for asking me and I hope this answer will help a lot of people.

For those of you who don’t know what a Fitbit is (or who don’t live in Colorado, where Fitbits are EVERYWHERE), a Fitbit is a wearable health tracker that you wear on your wrist and it helps count your steps, activity level, heart rate (for some), etc.  From a health engagement perspective, they are pretty neat.  If want, my friend Sara recently wrote a very nice article on wearable technology.

 

Fitbits have also been reported to cause possible allergy symptoms (note: this is not just about Fitbit allergy, but any wearable can be applied to this category).

Let’s try to figure out whether or not you have a Fitbit allergy:

What are the symptoms of a Fitbit allergy

First, let’s look at your symptoms.

In most cases, you will likely have a rash or red, dry, flaky skin on the wrist where you are wearing the Fitbit. This rash may extend beyond the wrist, but definitely should involve the wrist. It is likely itchy although not always. Given enough time, it can also be painful or you could feel burning. What is important in diagnosing a true Fitbit allergy is that the rash should stay there and take some time to get better one the wearable is removed.

However, for some people, there is itching and irritation while wearing the device and sometimes during exercise but is improved when taking off the wearable. There is usually not a rash or if there is, it goes away pretty quickly. This is less likely a Fitbit allergy, but rather a possible irritation. I’ll cover this below too.

Fitbit allergy symptoms: contact dermatitis (picture from iacworld.org)
Fitbit allergy symptoms: contact dermatitis (picture from iacworld.org)

 

What is a true Fitbit allergy?

Most likely, a true Fitbit allergy is really a contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis can be either an allergic contact dermatitis or an irritant contact dermatitis. Either one can cause similar symptoms (but with different underlying cause) and is an article all by itself.  But to answer your question I’m going to group them together.

A true Fitbit allergy means your skin is being irritated by a component of the Fitbit itself, whether it is the rubber/plastic/other component of the wristband, the metal on the band or possibly even from the sensors or some other component of the actual device.

 

This is the most common reason for a true Fitbit allergy, but you should also consider whether you could have a “mostly true” Fitbit allergy.

What is a “mostly true” Fitbit allergy

No, it’s not an allergy diagnosed/cured by Miracle Max.

What I am considering a “mostly true” Fitbit allergy is an allergic or irritant contact dermatitis caused by a chemical, cosmetic or other contactant that gets stuck to the Fitbit.

Imagine if you were allergic to a certain soap (or other chemical) and it got stuck to the wearable itself. The longer you wear the device, the more the soap/chemical would stay in contact with your skin and, eventually, cause an allergy.

What if it’s a Fitbit irritation?

Although I have no data to back this up, I would be willing to bet that the majority of “Fitbit allergies” are really more of a contact irritation.

Most people who get a wearable will do two things with it: wear it all the time and increase exercise while wearing it. Afterall, that’s the point of the device.

But if you are exercising more with a band that is tight on your wrist (especially important if tracking heart rate) then as you exercise, your sweat will get trapped under and around the band itself. This can cause a lot of local irritation and itchiness, but usually without the rash of a true Fitbit allergy.

In addition, just as you could have soaps/creams/chemicals trapped on the band itself, you could get dirt or other irritants trapped under the band which will keep it exposed to the skin for longer periods, increasing the irritation.

In these cases, you don’t have an allergic or irritant contact dermatitis but will definitely have an irritation. This distinction is important when we are talking about treatment and solutions below.

How to treat true Fitbit allergy or “mostly true” Fitbit allergy

In each of these cases, there is local irritation, redness, itching and a rash from either the Fitbit itself or something that has become “trapped” under the Fitbit.

The next steps for this possible diagnosis would be:

  1. Remove the Fitbit and keep it off for now.
  2. Add a bland cream or moisturizer to the rash. This article shows some examples.
  3. Consider adding an over-the-counter topical steroid cream.
  4. Consider seeing an allergist or dermatologist to diagnose the actual allergy
    • Of note, you will need a PATCH TEST and not a regular allergy test.
    • Patch testing is becoming harder to find so CALL AROUND first
    • One type of test is a smaller panel called a T.R.U.E. test. It may be best to avoid this test in favor of a larger panel.
    • If you have questions, please email me! I have seen people waste thousands of dollars on the wrong type of test.

If you had an actual Fitbit allergy, this is the best plan for diagnosing it, treating it, and ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

How to treat a Fitbit irritation

In this case, there is not an allergic component to the rash but a contact irritation. The solution is easier and can probably be done at home.

  1. Remove the Fitbit and keep it off until your symptoms are gone.
  2. Wash your wrist to ensure any irritant is gone.
  3. Also rinse the Fitbit (read instructions first so you don’t soak it or destroy it).
  4. Consider the following in the future:
    • Loosen the wearable when you wear it. Allow good circulation of air.
    • Try not to minimize soaps/creams/other irritants in the area.
    • Consider removing the Fitbit as soon as exercise is done.
    • Keep your wrist and Fitbit clean and irritant free.

This is a very good first plan and should help the majority of you having a Fitbit irritation.

But if these don’t solve the problem, then consider one of the following steps:

  1. Seeing an allergy or dermatology specialist for the next step.
  2. Email me and I might be able to help you (or suggest what to tell your primary care to do for the next step).

 

Once you figure out whether you have a true Fitbit allergy, a “mostly true” Fitbit allergy, or a Fitbit irritation you can get the right treatment.

And then you can get back to exercising and enjoying all the “constructive criticisms” your wearable has to offer!

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