Policy & Issues

A burning problem

Students using a laptop. Photo: R. Ragu  

Who would have thought that a laptop could harm your lap? Balancing it on your knee for long hours could result in burns, permanent discoloration of the skin, or a stinging rash called ‘toasted skin syndrome' because of the heat generated from it.

”When a laptop is turned on, the CPU and GPU get heated. This heat is transferred to the lap, making the skin on the thighs red and pigmented, says Dr. Nina Madnani, dermatologist and consultant at the Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai.

What to look for

“Erythema ab igne (toasted skin syndrome) is characterised by a net-like (reticulated) redness (erythema) localised to the area exposed to heat. The heat is just below the threshold of thermal burn i.e. below 45 degree C, and this causes the syndrome,” says Dr. Parag Sharma, Mumbai-based consultant dermatologist. Initially, transient red patches develop in a net-like pattern over the heat source. There may be burning or a mild itchy sensation. The patches blanch easily on pressure, evolving into hyper-pigmented patches. Later, the lesions become rough and swollen (hyperkeratotic plaques). “Diagnosis can be proved by histopathological examination of the affected skin,” says Dr. Sharma.

If heat exposure is not stopped, it results in the formation of keratotic papules. Further exposure could cause the cells to acquire malignant potential, resulting in squamous cell carcinoma.

Heating pads, heated reclining chairs, infrared lamps, electric heaters and steam radiators are a few other devices that can cause toasted skin syndrome. “Erythema ab igne was originally described in people who hold kangris against their body to keep warm, and those who use a hot water bottle or heating pad for pain relief,” says Dr. Madnani.

Children vulnerable

Children may be especially vulnerable, since they are so absorbed in their game, they don’t realise their skin is getting heated. “Children’s skin is particularly sensitive to heat and hence they could develop erythema ab igne much sooner,” says Dr. Madnani. Never neglect simple measures such as using a heat shield under the laptop or placing it on a table top or hard surface. Make sure the cooling fans are working well. If you must use your laptop , reposition it periodically and avoid blocking the vents underneath. Use a laptop desk with a pillow on the bottom and a hard work surface on the top. Check vents regularly and clean the dust with a soft brush or vacuum attachment. Give your laptop time to cool off to protect not only your skin, but the processors inside as well. In fact, most manufacturers issue a warning in their user manual not to place a laptop on exposed skin.

Users of such devices should observe the exposed area daily for early skin lesions that indicate toasted skin syndrome. If lesions have developed, it’s best to stop using the device. “Erythema ab igne usually resolves spontaneously after exposure of the offending heat source is stopped. But long-term follow up is essential to identify/rule out any malignant change,” advises Dr. Sharma. “Cold compresses and calamine also help,” suggests Dr. Madnani

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 3:06:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/policy-and-issues/a-burning-problem/article4643780.ece

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