TORONTO – Carla Dorland is the first to admit that she loved her FitBit Force activity tracker wristband at first.
The Whitby, Ont. woman had been using the device, designed to track activity levels to help with weight loss, for less than a month when she began noticing a strange rash forming on her arm.
After that rash developed into a large blister, she said she visited a doctor who told her she had suffered a chemical burn that would likely result in scarring, discoloration, and permanent changes in her skin.
Dorland is just one of hundreds of FitBit Force users who say they have been affected by what the company is calling a “skin irritation” caused by the device. The U.S.-based company issued a voluntary recall for the device last week and pulled the wristbands from store shelves until the issue is resolved.
However, users like Dorland who say they are still dealing with more serious cases feel the company is not doing enough for those affected.
“They are just trying to push everything under the rug,” Dorland told Global News.
Complaints of users experiencing painful burn-like rashes from the device surfaced in early January.
Many users reported developing a painful rash that in some cases turned into a blister after wearing the fitness tracker for a prolonged period of time. According to Fitbit’s statement, users were likely experiencing an allergic reaction to the nickel found in the metal part of the device.
“I wasn’t tested for nickel [when I saw the doctor], but I have had other allergy tests in the past and I never reacted to nickel,” said Dorland.
“But the doctor did say that it depends on the quality of nickel in the stainless steel, he said there are different variations of it.”
Since seeing her doctor a week ago, Dorland has been using an antibiotic burn cream on the affected area, as well as a hydrocortisone cream to help with inflammation in her wrist; but she said there has been little pain relief.
“It’s very sore – to the point where it wakes me up at night,” she said, adding that she has to resort to using an ice pack some nights to reduce the swelling. “When it’s not sore it’s itchy.”
There is no relief in sight for Dorland either, with her doctor suggesting a minimum two-month healing period for this type of burn. Then there is the matter of scarring.
“The doctor said that with chemical burns, because it goes through so many layers of skin, once your skin repairs itself it’s going to be discoloured, scarred, or both. He said I will always have something there,” she said.
On Wednesday, Dorland was contacted by a FitBit spokesperson who said the company is offering to cover her medical expenses and any treatment-related costs; but because she is an Ontario resident with a drug coverage plan she has not had to pay for her treatment or prescriptions.
“How much is it to go to the doctors in Canada? – I don’t know, because we don’t have to pay. They could get off quite easy by doing that,” she said.
Global News contacted FitBit for a statement regarding whether the company is offering to pay the medical expenses of all users suffering from a skin irritation or burn, and if there will be any other form of compensation for those like Dorland who have medical coverage.
The company said in an emailed response that it did not comment on individual cases.
“As a matter of company policy we do not discuss individual cases. Our customer service department assists each community member on an individual basis,” read a statement from a FitBit spokesperson.
But FitBit is also coming under fire on its Facebook page, as those affected by the recall take to the page to document their alleged irritations or burns.
Some have criticized the company for not openly addressing concerns around the skin irritation, one Facebook user commenting, “I think you are taking a great risk by not telling what is going on.”
The company replied to that Facebook comment with the following message: “We’re sorry but we don’t have any more information at this time. We’ll be addressing this topic soon. Thanks again for your patience.”
Dorland has been posting photos of her burn on FitBit’s Facebook page, but has had little response from the company.
“It bothers me because I take care of social media at my current workplace and you have to answer the negative feedback just as quickly as the positive feedback, because it’s going to go further,” Dorland said during a phone interview.
“They will say, ‘oh congrats’ to this person for losing 100 pounds, but they won’t answer any of the negative comments. It just adds fuel to the fire.”
She also believes the company should stop downplaying the injury as a “skin irritation.”
“They can’t just keep saying it’s an irritation because it’s not; a little red rash? Yeah I get it, you take it off and that’s the end of it.”
Dorland has not yet decided if she is going to take legal action against the company, though some U.S.-based law firms are investing lawsuits on behalf of affected customers.
© Shaw Media, 2014