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How Laptop Users are at Risk for “Toasted Skin Syndrome” and Low Sperm Count

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October 4, 2010

Often the very reason people purchase a laptop computer is for their portability and ease of use on a lap. However, some laptop computer users can develop a condition called “Toasted Skin Syndrome” or experience a drop in sperm count due to repeated exposure to high heat from using the computer on their lap.

Erythema ab igne, more commonly known as Toasted Skin Syndrome, is a blotchy or mottled discoloration of the skin that develops from prolonged or repeated exposure to heat without a burn. The affected area may be itchy and lesions may occur. The condition can result from heating pads and hot water bottles, car heaters, fireplaces, stoves or other heat sources. Workers on the job such as bakers or chefs who encounter heat frequently on the job are at risk for Toasted Skin Syndrome. More recently, the increased use of laptops on the lap has caused this condition.

According to WebMD, a report in the upcoming November issue of Pediatrics highlights Toasted Skin Syndrome in a 12-year-old boy who developed the mottled discoloration on one leg after playing games a few hours a day for several months while using a laptop on his lap.

Authors of the Pediatrics article recommended that manufacturers of laptop computers include a warning label notifying users of the danger. Parents should exercise special care when children use laptops.

“The popularity of laptop computers will likely increase this diagnosis in the future,” the Pediatrics article said. “Our patient has had only comparatively shortly used his laptop, which indicates that children’s skin is more sensitive to heat.”

If only mildly affected, the discoloration from Toasted Skin Syndrome may disappear in a few months. If the condition is severe or atrophic, the damage could be permanent. Those with the condition are at increased risk for squamous cell carcinomas or skin cancer.

Boys and men using a laptop on the lap are also at risk for reducing sperm count and infertility. A study published in the Oxford Journal of Human Reproduction found that using a laptop on the lap significantly increased the heat exposure of the scrotum. Scrotal hyperthermia can lead to decreased fertility.

"The body needs to maintain a proper testicular temperature for normal sperm production and development. Portable computers in a laptop position produce scrotal hyperthermia by both the direct heating effect of the computer and the sitting position necessary to balance the computer," study researchers said. "Until further studies provide more information on this type of thermal exposure, teenage boys and young men may consider limiting their use of a laptop on their laps, as long-term use may have a detrimental effect on their reproductive health."

Considering these potential adverse health effects, a worst place to use a laptop is your lap.