February 24, 2012 / 7:13 AM / 8 years ago

Beware "toasted skin syndrome," doctors warn

Feb 24 (Reuters) - Bottom warmers in cars may ease frigid winter commutes, but dermatologists warn that extended exposure to seat heaters can lead to a skin condition called “toasted skin syndrome.”

Two reports in the Archives of Dermatology describe rashes on legs that erupt by pressing against warmed-up seats for prolonged periods of time.

Toasted skin syndrome might be ugly, but it’s not serious.

“Turn down the setting,” Brian Adams, a dermatologist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, told Reuters Health. “Avoid prolonged, tight juxtapositioning of their lower legs on the hottest setting of the heated seats.”

Toasted skin syndrome, known as erythema ab igne or EAI, is caused by exposure to heat, although it is not a burn.

There have been few cases of people being scorched by car seats that malfunctioned, but that was not the situation with the patients in these reports.

In one case seen by Adams, a 67-year-old woman developed a web of red lines traversing the back of her legs, which he described as “rusty brown reticulated patches.”

The pattern of markings, he determined, matched parts of her legs that touched her car seat. Pictures showed that her left leg that remained pressed against the seat, for instance, had more discoloration than the right leg she used to operate the pedals.

During the winter, the woman had her car seat heater turned on during 130 trips lasting 45 minutes each and another 10 trips lasting two hours each.

“Sometimes people don’t initially make the connection between the rash and the exposure, but based on the pattern you can figure out that it’s probably from heat,” said Jennifer Stein, a professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the studies.

In another case, a 40-year-old woman, who drove an hour a day for four months using a seat heater, also showed up at the doctor’s office with similar markings on her thighs.

The treatment?

Simply avoid contact with the heat source. Eventually toasted skin will fade, but the discoloration could last for months.

But one problem with toasted skin is that, because it can mimic other conditions, the syndrome can lead to unneeded testing for other problems if not diagnosed correctly.

Stein said toasted skin also is interesting because it reflects changes in technology over time. In fact, people used to get rashes from sitting close to fires.

In recent years, she's seen cases arising from people using space heaters under desks or having laptop PCs on their laps. SOURCE: bit.ly/xfKdIn and bit.ly/xlmpRv (Reporting from New York by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies and Bob Tourtellotte)

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