Leg of lunkhead, lightly toasted
Oct. 11, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

The medical community will continue to enjoy the comfort of job security as long as people continue to find idiotic new ways to injure themselves, which basically means that the docs are set for life.

Many of the new afflictions that have emerged in recent years have involved technology, and the latest phenomenon is no exception.

We have seen carpal tunnel syndrome caused by excessive participation in video games, repetitive stress injuries to the thumb caused by non-stop texting, and a whole range of injuries suffered by Wii warriors in the course of virtual sports.

The newest self-induced injury does not involve repetitive motion or attempting to play vigorous games in a confined space. It is the result of spending hours in front of, or perhaps more to the point, underneath, a laptop computer.

“Toasted skin syndrome” refers to skin damage caused by prolonged exposure to the heat generated from a laptop computer against the skin of one’s legs.

Also known as “laptop-induced dermatosis,” the condition was first identified in 2004. It is characterized by a brownish, often mottled, discoloration of the skin.

While it is generally not considered harmful, researchers warn that in some extremely rare cases, it can result in damage that could eventually lead to skin cancer.

It has been reported that under a microscope, skin affected by toasted skin syndrome resembles skin that has been damaged by long-term exposure to the sun.

A recent study conducted by Swiss researchers and published in the journal, Pediatrics addressed cases of toasted skin syndrome.

It should be noted that this condition is not caused by a few minutes of exposure. It is experienced by people who work or play games on their computers for several hours per day for an extended period, generally several months or more.

Like many self-inflicted injuries, the cure is quite simple. In order to avoid the problem, all one has to do is refrain from resting a laptop against one’s skin.

Something as simple as keeping a laptop case or other object, such a book between one’s legs and the computer to act as a heat shield will completely eliminate the problem.

The funny thing is, the source of the damage is not undetectable. People affected by toasted skin syndrome realize that their legs are getting hot. They just don’t bother to do anything about it.

The condition, technically called erythema ab igne, had previously been observed on the lower legs of people who worked in front of open fires or other heat sources, according to researchers.

As I was reading about this study, some of the advice dispensed by my parents years ago came flooding back to me. They liked to ask clever questions, such as inquiring if one had enough sense to come in out of the rain (to avoid getting wet), or out of the sun (to avoid sunburn), or other seemingly obvious questions.

I remember thinking at the time that, of course, everyone had more sense than to allow oneself to be injured when it was so simple to avoid injury. I realize now that I was wrong.

Perhaps even more ridiculous is the fact that there are some who are demanding that the manufacturers of laptop computers and similar devices put labels on their products warning users of the possible risks of long-term exposure to heat (actually, some manufactures already do this voluntarily).

According to researchers, mild-to-moderate heat, from about 109 to 117 degrees Fahrenheit, is enough to cause burns, and 111 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to cause toasted skin syndrome.

It is infinitely sad that we live in a society where it is necessary to warn people that if they expose themselves to heat (even relatively low heat) for an extended period, to the point where they get hot, they might end up getting burned.

One has observed that nature cleverly provided a defense against such things. If we expose ourselves to something that has the potential to cause injury, it hurts. This is nature’s way of telling us to remove ourselves from the source of the pain before we are injured.

Nature, however, underestimated the stupidity of modern man. Apparently, there are plenty of people who will deliberately override nature’s warnings and end up getting hurt. They will then immediately begin looking for someone else to blame for their misfortune.

Two things (in addition to death and taxes) are certain. Until we finally succeed in driving ourselves into extinction, we humans will continue to discover new ways to injure ourselves. And some of us will continue to vigorously deny responsibility when we do.

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