Metal Allergies – An Overview!

A published survey had established that more than half (54.6%) of all US citizens tested positive to one or more allergens. Apart from the environmental allergens, a lot of times metals in contact with the body can also trigger adverse reactions commonly known as metal allergies. Jewelries and Accessories are a primary source of such allergens. It sets forth a condition known as Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD). Nickel, Cobalt, Chrome and copper are the primary metals causing ACD. Contact Dermatitis leads to 5.7 million physician visits each year approximately in the USA.

Gold, platinum and palladium are most popular jewelry choices for women. They too contain irritants. Sometimes during the jewelry making process a good amount of some other metal like nickel is added to the expensive metals like gold. The cross contaminations also increase the chances of allergic reactions. It is mostly prevalent in women. Also, men have higher incidences of metal allergy related to occupational exposures. Many construction materials contain metals that can trigger allergic reactions. The increasing popularity of body piercing has led to an increase in the incidence of metal allergies in both men and women.

Mechanism behind metal induced allergies

Metals evoke allergic reaction every time they come in contact with bodily fluids like sweat, tears etc. The metal alloys undergo reactions and corrosion. These reactions release ions and molecules. These molecules bind to the protein carriers and cause the histamine to be released from the mast cells in the skin, gut and pharynx. Histamine is the main chemical behind the adverse physical reactions experienced.

Symptoms of Metal Allergies

  • Red itchy rash.
  • Crusts and scales on the outer layer of the skin.
  • Skin darkening.
  • Clusters of inflamed welts with infectious fluid inside. Known as blisters, wheals or urticaria, the skin rash can be a cause of severe discomfort.
  • Burning sensation and pain in the rashes.
  • Symptoms start developing when skin comes in contact with the irritant.
  • The infection is superficial affecting only the two outermost layers of the skin, namely the epidermis and the dermis. The bacterium on the skin surface further reacts with the metal and gives rise to symptoms.

The infection gradually heals by itself after the source metal causing the irritation is removed.

Metals that cause severe allergic contact dermatitis

  • Nickel – Nickel is by far the most well known metal for allergies. Nickel mostly comes in contact with the body through jewelries for different body piercings, coins, necklace clasps, glasses and watchbands. Prolonged exposure to the metal can cause it.
  • Cobalt – Cobalt is found in porcelain, glass, hair dyes, dental plates, pottery, ceramics, water color paints, crayons, metal plated jewelry, zippers, buttons, utensils, tools etc. Cobalt can appear with other metals like nickel and increase the severity of the reactions.
  • Chromium (Chrome) – Chrome is generally found in hard metal substances and is used in a lot of alloys like stainless steel. It forms a part of raw materials used for cement production and is used in tanning leather.
  • Copper – Even though copper is an essential metal found in the human body but copper toxicity occurs rarely. Copper may appear singly or in combination with other metals and cause reaction.

Jewelry Dermatitis
Jewelry is a prime source of contacting metal allergies. Cheap cosmetic jewelry is often made of nickel and inexpensive alloys which causes the symptoms. Most jewelry 18 carat or below have a good amount of nickel in them. 10-12% of the female population and 6 % of the male population is known to be allergic to nickel. Nickel reacts with moisture to form salts. Whenever the jewelry in the body comes in contact with water it forms salts and causes irritation.


Skin prick, patch and blood tests are done to detect the allergen causing it. It is important to isolate the metal causing allergies so that coming in contact with it could be avoided.

Treatment of Metal Allergies

  • Remove the metal from the body and discontinue its use.
  • If the rash is intense and spreads over a large area of the skin, treatment with corticosteroids is an option. A corticosteroid cream or ointment can be applied to reduce local inflammation, itching and pain. In severe cases, corticosteroids pills and injections are administered.
  • Antihistamines work by blocking histamines and bring immediate relief.
  • Atopical ointments also bring in quicker relief.

Prevention of metal induced allergic reactions

  • The first step would be to stop coming in contact with the metal causing reactions.
  • Wash the affected area with soap and water, pat dry and put any antiseptic cream to avoid further complications. Refrain from itching as it may just aggravate the reactions.
  • Ice can be applied to reduce itching and swelling.
  • Blisters on skin should not be touched as they are full of healing enzymes and other fluids.
  • Substitute metals with other hypoallergenic materials like wood, plastic, paper etc.
  • Change socks and shoes frequently to prevent sweat from coming in contact with the affected area.
  • Do not wear garments which cover the affected area. Exposure to sweat is harmful.
  • Coat metal items of everyday use with paint and tape to avoid contact.
  • Check ingredients you buy to see if they have traces of metals you are allergic to.

This was all about metal allergies. Now that you know the causes, treatment, and prevention of metal allergies, we hope that you would avoid these allergens for a healthy and allergy-free life!

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