Nike sneakers were invented when Bill Bowerman poured liquid urethane into his wife's waffle iron and toasted up the first Nike waffle sole trainers. Well, as it turns out, you can do the same thing, on your own body, using a computer. Despite their name, laptops are really not meant to be sitting on your lap for hours while you work (or play games, if that's your thing). It may feel cozy, all curled up on the couch with the warmth of the computer directly on your legs, but you are in for some serious injuries if that becomes your routine.
New research, conducted by Swiss scientists at the University Hospital Basel, shows that consistent heat exposure from keeping your laptop on your legs for too long can cause erythema ab igne, otherwise known as toasted skin syndrome. The skin of the affected area becomes mottled in appearance and, upon microscopic examination, actually resembles skin with long-term sun damage.
The researchers compiled reports of laptop users who were afflicted with toasted skin syndrome after too much time with the computer on their laps. One such case involved a 12-year-old boy who, over a period of months, played games on his computer for several hours a day while the machine sat on his legs. He ended up with a very attractive blotchy discoloration on his left thigh. Although the boy felt the heat emanating from the laptop, he never bothered to move it. Might be time for his parents to set some serious gaming limits for him!
Another case highlighted in the study involved a law school student who reported spending somewhere in the vicinity of six hours each day sitting with her laptop on her legs. A lot of devotion to her schoolwork, to be sure. However, she too ended up with the telltale spotty, discolored skin on her thigh that indicates toasted skin syndrome.
This malady, though on the rise as evidenced by this research, is not new or distinct to laptop users. Toasted skin syndrome in the past has been caused by heating pads, hot water bottles, working near heat sources such as large ovens, and sitting in proximity to a fireplace or pot-bellied stove. Those who develop this reaction all remain close to the heat long enough to do damage but never get so hot that they end up with burns. Over time, toasted skin syndrome can result in permanent darkening of the affected area of skin. It has also been linked to inflammation and damage at the cellular level that can end up opening the door to skin cancers.
But that's not the worst of it!
A recent study from researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that men who tend to work most often with their laptops on their legs had higher scrotum temperatures than other men. Regular contact with a heat source over time can lower sperm production and possibly contribute to infertility.
It is the processor inside the computer that generates the heat. The laptop is built with fans and vents designed to safely release heat. (Some do it better than others.) But if the vents are blocked, say from resting firmly against your legs, they can't properly do their job and the temperature of the machine will soar. The lesion frequently appears on only one leg because the processor that heats up is usually located on the left side of the computer. Laptops have been known to reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit -- well over the 111.2 degrees that's the threshold for causing toasted skin syndrome. Those affected have reported that there is no burning sensation, which makes sense since they aren't technically being burned.
Obviously, toasted skin syndrome is not going to be a problem for everyone as many of us don't use laptops, or if we do, we keep them off our laps. Even those that do prefer their computer on their legs are relatively safe if they are not keeping it there for six to eight hours each day. But if you really do like the feeling of having it on your lap, don't use a pillow as a buffer as it will only stifle the fans and vents. Instead, keep a hard surface on your legs as a shield. Or better yet, learn to live with using your laptop on a table or desk. Then no one will confuse your thigh with the sole of a Nike shoe, and all you will have to worry about is the radiation emitted from your cell phone frying up your brain cells!