Nickel Allergy

Allergy-SyndromeDo you get rash, itching at the place of your ear lobe, watch strap or belt? If this is true, you must be having nickel allergy. Nickel is the most common metal which causes allergy. Nickel is found in most jewelry, common every day items such as eyeglass frames, utensils, paper clips etc. When skin contact with nickel results in an inappropriate reaction, it is said to be nickel allergy. Allergies occur when our body’s immune system identifies a harmless substance as dangerous and attacks back producing antibodies and histamines.

Causes of Nickel Allergy

Nickel allergy results from a prolonged contact or repeated exposure to items made up of or containing nickel. Common household items like belts, buttons, chains, clothing hooks, clothing fasteners, hair pins, handbag catches, keys, razors, pens, watches, zippers, eyeglasses, jeans studs etc may contain nickel. It is very difficult to find a metal which is not alloyed with nickel.

Nickel is also present in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, meats and other food items. Be vary of foods like apricots, figs, lettuce, leeks, onions, peas, pineapple, prunes, raspberries, tomatoes, spinach, sprouts, kale, canned fruits and canned vegetables.

Sometimes baking powder, cocoa, chocolate, tea, coffee, beer and buckwheat may also contain nickel. Whole foods like oats, licorice, millet, multi-grain breads, nuts and wheat bran products may also contain nickel. Sea foods like oysters, salmon and shellfish are also said to contain nickel.

Nickel may also be present in your daily use utensils and cooking pans that may trigger nickel allergy in sensitive people.

Wet contact of the skin with nickel metal can also cause allergies. This is because water, sweat etc. can cause the nickel ions to enter the skin and can cause allergies. People who work in places which require constant contact with nickel metal should be careful.

Symptoms of Nickel Allergy

Nickel allergy usually occurs at the place of contact of the metal with the skin. However, the allergy can also occur at other parts of the body. Symptoms develop within 12 – 48 hours on exposure. The signs and symptoms of nickel allergy include:
• Mild to severe itching
• Bumps or rash on the skin
• Dry patches of skin resembling burns
• Blisters and severe draining of fluid in some cases
• Redness or change in skin color

If sweating occurs at the point of skin contact to nickel objects, these symptoms get worse more and more.

People with nickel allergy when exposed to objects containing nickel, either consciously or unconsciously show all these symptoms.

People who are hypersensitive experience itching and tingling sensation for nearly 30 minutes on direct exposure with skin. The skin starts showing swollen rashes and watery blisters after one to two days.

One such case where most women become allergic to nickel is after their first piercing of the ear. Though the skin will not react during its initial exposure, the signs and symptoms slowly begin. The first signs include blister formation and itchiness.

Diagnosis of Nickel Allergy

To diagnose nickel allergy, your doctor may recommend patch testing. In patch testing, a small amount of allergen (nickel) is applied as patches on the skin. The patch is removed after 2 days. If you have nickel allergy, the skin under the patch would be inflamed.

Patch testing is considered safe as very low amounts of allergens as used.

Treatment of Nickel Allergy

The effective nickel allergy treatment is only to limit exposure to objects containing nickel. If you are sensitive to nickel, you will develop a rash whenever your skin comes in contact with the metal. Once an allergic reaction is developed, it will last for 2 – 4 weeks.

Although there is no proper nickel allergy treatment, there are some measures, which upon following, can provide relief from the most annoying symptoms. The following content discusses on some measures to treat nickel allergy symptoms.

• Wash the affected area with water to remove any left over residue of the allergen that is causing allergic reaction. Applying diluted vinegar compresses helps in drying the blisters.
• Applying cool compresses also helps in relieving redness, itching and swelling that has occurred as a result of nickel allergy.
• Antihistamines help in treating the allergic symptoms which include inflamed, itchy and red skin.
• Over the counter products and vitamins like aloe vera, quercitin and vitamin E are mostly recommended as they help in managing allergy symptoms.
• Topical steroids, especially systemic steroids are also recommended which help in easing the inflammation.
• Emollient creams are effective in in relieving itchy and dry skin.
• Commonly prescribed medications include corticosteroid creams, oral corticosteroids and oral antihistamines. These medications help in reducing the irritation and improve the rash condition.
• Antibiotic medications like penicillin are even prescribed at times for treating secondary infections.

Prevention and Management of Nickel Allergy

Here are the following tips to prevent and manage nickel allergy:

• Be careful while undergoing body piercing – If you are opting for body piercing, make sure it is done only with stainless steel or nickel-free needles. The body piercing studio should be clean, tidy and a reputed one.
• Purchase/wear jewelry carefully – Wear hypoallergenic jewelry, such as jewelry made of nickel-free stainless steel, titanium, stainless steel etc. Jewelry made of 18-carat gold, 14-carat nickel free yellow gold is also recommended. White gold, gold plated, rolled gold jewelry should be avoided
• Substitute materials – Instead of nickel products, try buying products with substitute materials such as leather, plastic, cloth, plastic-coated materials. For example, you can buy a leather watchband instead of a nickel one.
• Be careful of nickel sources – Nickel is found mostly in jewelry and day-to-day articles and you should be careful of these sources. Nickel is found in watchbands, eyeglass frames, coins, keys, pens, tools, hairpins, belt buckles, zippers, snaps and bra hooks. It is also found in jewelry such as rings, bracelets and necklaces

Nickel allergy can be prevented by avoiding prolonged contact with the metal. However, if your parents or relatives have nickel allergy, you are also have probability of developing allergy to nickel. Hence, by being aware of nickel sources and staying away from them, you can manage nickel allergy.