Katsumi Kasahara/AP

“PlayStation Palm” Joins Modern Woes “Golfer’s Ear” and “Popcorn Lung”

February 26, 2009 09:01 AM
by Emily Coakley
The report of a skin condition linked to too much time playing video games could be the latest in unexpected dangers that technological advances present.

Medical Journal Describes “PlayStation Palm”

The British Journal of Dermatology has published a case study of a 12-year-old girl in Switzerland who was afflicted with “painful sore patches on the palms of the hands.” The girl had been playing a PlayStation frequently before the patches appeared and they disappeared after 10 days of her not playing the game. The researchers dubbed the condition “PlayStation palmar hidradenitis,” according to the Times of London.

The study authors theorized that the combination of tightly gripping the game system’s controllers for a long period of time could have created the condition.

PlayStation is sold in Switzerland by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd. A spokesman pointed out that the company has sold millions of game consoles and controllers in the 14 years since the PlayStation first hit the market, and has never heard of customers developing such an ailment.

The Times quoted the unnamed spokesman as saying, “We do not wish to belittle this research and will study the findings with interest. This is the first time we have ever heard of a complaint of this nature.”

Background: Other surprising modern ailments

PlayStation palm is just the latest in surprising health hazards of varying degrees from now-common household items.

Last year, news broke about a man who got a condition called “popcorn lung” after eating two bags of microwave popcorn a day for years. Popcorn lung is known scientifically as bronchitis obliterans, and is a severe lung disease previously reported only in people who worked in microwave popcorn manufacturing plants. The emergence of popcorn lung led major popcorn manufacturers to remove diacetyl—the flavoring chemical thought to be responsible—from their recipes.

A trial for a plant worker who sued after contracting popcorn lung began in Sioux City, Iowa, last week.

In 2008, Mother Jones magazine highlighted another potential problem lurking in the home: the memory-foam mattress. The magazine told the story of a couple who had to send their new memory-foam mattress back within days of receiving it because of a “strong, acrid odor.” One of the pair felt nauseated each of the two nights she slept on the mattress; the other had an asthma attack while sleeping on it.

Mattresses have low levels of flame-retardant chemicals, formaldehyde, and pesticides from cotton, according to the magazine, though “there is no proven health risk from the substances in the mattress.”

“It’s the dose that makes the poison,” Mother Jones quoted Heather Stapleton, a Duke University environmental chemist, as saying. “If they’re not getting out, maybe it’s not a problem—but we don’t know. There are plenty of lab studies that show that these compounds are harmful. It’s just a question of what levels people are exposed to.”

Trouble lurks in unexpected places for recreation, too. Last month, the British Medical Journal reported the case of a 55-year-old man who experienced hearing loss after using a thin-faced titanium golf driver “three times a week for 18 months,” according to Time magazine.

Like the PlayStation palm report, this case involved just one person. But Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital doctors who treated the golfer took their investigation a step further: they went to the driving range and measured the decibels from six titanium drivers, including the one their patient used.

“Doctors found that all six titanium clubs exceeded safe limits, while only two of the six steel drivers posed a hazard,” Time reported.

Professional golfers probably aren’t in any danger. Thin-faced titanium drivers were banned from professional play by the United States Golf Association in 2002 because they could give a player an unfair advantage, Time said.

Opinion & Analysis: Play Station palm is “bad science”; driver complaints

Trina Hoaks, writing for the Examiner, took issue with the PlayStation palm diagnosis because the report involved just one person.

“Now, I am not doubting that this girl experienced lesions on her palms as a result of playing the system, but to decide that PlayStation game play results in a skin disorder because this happened to one person is just bad science,” Hoaks wrote, adding that she and her son have played PlayStation games for hours on end without any problems.

As for golfer’s ear, a man identified only as Jerry wrote to Frank Thomas of the Golf Channel about problems with a noisy driver.

“[O]ne of our group believes it is so loud that it hurts his ears and he has to cover them when I am about to drive and prefers not to play with me because of this,” Jerry wrote, asking whether he should be concerned about the noise.

Thomas, in his Jan. 7 response, agreed that some drivers “produce a sound which I have described as noise pollution and hurts my ears.” Thomas mentioned the BMJ study, and concluded that if using the driver hurts a golfer’s ears, “the distance you get from your driver is not proportional to the noise it makes.”

Reference: Avoiding household toxins

For those who are concerned about any dangers posed by toxins around the house, Newsweek in October offered “Nine Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Common Toxins.” The advice included avoiding getting stain protection treatments for furniture, shoes and clothes; filtering your water and dusting and vacuuming weekly.

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