Toasted Skin Syndrome and modern electronics


Erythema Ab Igne , more commonly referred to as “Toasted Skin Syndrome” is common amongst firefighters, bakers and even glass blowers.  It was also common to see this discoloring from those that sat a little too close to the fireplace.  As technological advances of the late 19th century brought various forms of central heating into most homes, this phenomenon fizzled out of medical books, until now.

What causes toasted leg syndrome? Extended exposure to high heat.  Imagine living in an old house that was cold and drafty.  You might sit next to the hot fireplace for an extended period of time, similar to the way that people might sun-bathe today, exposing themselves to excessive and extended heat.  In toasted skin syndrome, the skin will become discolored and have a pattern described as net-like, reticulated, sponge-patterned, mottled or blotchy, or even rash-like.  It doesn’t itch, it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t always go away.  It will also commonly cause permanent darkening of the skin.  There are also questions if it can cause damage bad enough to lead to skin cancer.

While a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, a laptop might cause the smell of burning flesh.  Well, maybe not quite that bad.  Even though the laptop got its name because you could set it on your lap – don’t.  There are more reasons than a toasty leg for not doing this.  It’s a catch-22 really.  By setting your laptop on your lap, you will usually block, baffle or muffle the fans and the source of cool air for your computers processor.  The harder your computer works, the hotter the processor becomes.  If your computer does not have unobstructed access to fresh cool air, the processor will become hotter…

Setting your laptop on pillows, jackets and other soft non-rigid objects will push the temperature higher.   This can also shorten the life of your laptop.  If there is one thing that technological devices don’t like, it’s weather extremes – hot or cold.  

Laptops have been known to reach temperatures of 125°F.  A short period of time on your lap is probably not dangerous as many of the reported cases of toasted leg syndrome have occurred when people have been using their laptops on their laps for 4 or more hours several days every week.  If you do need to use your laptop on your lap, use something rigid, or use some kind of actual heat shield.  Look for a “lap desk” – it’s a fluffy pillowy surface for your legs with a hard rigid top for your laptop (or even pen and paper).  

Toasted leg (or skin) syndrome is not only caused by laptops, it is caused by extended use of anything that has a heating element.  Things like Heating pads, heated blankets, hot water bottles and anything else that gets near the skin that uses any type of heating element.  These items don’t get hot enough to cause direct burns, but over time they will cause permanent skin darkening and/or discoloration.  An assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Dr. Kimberley Salkey, stated that when looked at under a microscope, the skin from a person with toasted leg syndrome resembles that of skin damaged by long-term sun exposure.

While sunscreen helps to prevent sunburns, as far as we know sunscreen (or any other product like that) doesn't with toasted skin syndrome.
If you must use your laptop on your laptop, limit the amount of time that you are using it there.  Use a heat shield or lap-desk.  If you don’t have anything else, use your carrying case as most carrying cases are fairly rigid so they will not block the cooling fans on the laptop and it will keep the heat away from your legs.  Preferably, you should use your laptop on a surface that is not your body.  
Remember, it is not just laptops that cause this – be careful with your use of heating pads, heated blankets, or even sitting too close to the fireplace, radiators or heating registers.

Cooling pads and heatshields can be found at many retailers for $25-$50 on average.  They are not very bulky and do not weigh much, so they will not add much overall to your laptop and case.  Most of the cooling pads are about the same – not much differences other than size for specific types of laptops or netbooks.
Lapdesks can be found at many retailers for $30-$60.  The lapdesks come in many different varieties.  


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