Nickel Allergy: How to Reduce Symptoms and Exposure

Feb 21, 2016
Nickel Allergy: How to Reduce Symptoms and Exposure
Have your earlobes ever become red and itchy after wearing a favorite pair of earrings? Or perhaps you’ve noticed irritation around your neck that always develops a couple of days after you wear a certain necklace.

Have your earlobes ever become red and itchy after wearing a favorite pair of earrings? Or perhaps you’ve noticed irritation around your neck that always develops a couple of days after you wear a certain necklace. If these scenarios are familiar to you, then you may have a nickel allergy.

Many people suffer from a nickel allergy, sometimes for quite a long time, before receiving a diagnosis. If you find yourself frequently dealing with skin irritation that includes a burning, itching rash, bumps, redness and severe dry patches, these may all be symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis. This allergic reaction can be caused by contact with nickel or another metal like palladium or cobalt. Nickel allergy is most often associated with jewelry because so many necklaces, earrings and other pierced jewelry contain at least some degree of this substance. However, nickel is actually used in many other common items, and contact with these items may cause allergic contact dermatitis as well.

For instance, some people have a reaction after handling a cell phone or because of wearing a watch with a metal band. Zippers, bra hooks and snaps may all contain nickel, setting up the wearer for an itchy, uncomfortable reaction. Even the frames of eyeglasses, keys and some metal tools may be to blame for an adverse reaction.

What Causes a Nickel Allergy?

This allergic contact dermatitis usually manifests after prolonged exposure to nickel. For some reason, the body mistakenly believes that nickel is a threat, causing it to unleash a protective reaction. Once this reaction is triggered in response to exposure to nickel, your immune system will always respond in a similar fashion to exposure to the same substance. Usually, the symptoms become more severe with each exposure.

Females are far more likely to manifest this sensitivity, perhaps because they tend to wear more jewelry and because they get piercings at a younger age. People who have a family history of nickel allergy also seem to be more susceptible. Those who have multiple ear and body piercings are generally more prone to this form of allergic contact dermatitis.

People who work with metal as a part of their profession also tend to develop this condition more often. Work that exposes employees to nickel and other metals, particularly in a capacity that also involves water, may find that they develop allergic contact dermatitis. Diverse occupations like hairdresser and bartender are among this group as are people in the metalworking industry.

The worst symptoms of a nickel allergy typically manifest between 12 and 48 hours after exposure. This delay can make it difficult to pin down precisely what is causing the reaction. Unfortunately, once this reaction begins, it can last for as long as four weeks, giving the sufferer a very uncomfortable month. It’s sensible to make an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as you can after symptoms first appear. This makes it possible to get an early diagnosis and may mean that some of the more severe symptoms of the reaction can be avoided.

A Dermatologist Consultation

Your dermatologist will have a number of questions for you at your first appointment. It may be wise to make a few notes about your symptoms, when they began and any changes you’ve noticed on the days leading up to your appointment. The more specific you can be, the more easily a diagnosis can be made. Your dermatologist may ask you to complete a patch test in which you skin is exposed to mild amounts of likely allergens for a couple of days. When your skin reacts to a certain allergen, your dermatologist will be able to prescribe a course of treatment.

Typical prescription treatments include corticosteroid cream and nonsteroidal creams that can lessen the itching, redness and dryness of allergic contact dermatitis. Oral antihistamines and corticosteroids may also be used to treat reactions that cover larger areas of the body. Certain home remedies may prove effective when it comes to managing symptoms. The simple application of calamine lotion can work wonders for soothing itchiness. Maintaining hydration by using a good moisturizing lotion on a daily basis is also a beneficial practice.

Avoiding Contact with Nickel

Of course, the best method of dealing with a nickel allergy is to stop the reaction from happening in the first place. It is essential to stop wearing any nickel-containing jewelry immediately. Home test kits are available for figuring out which jewelry pieces and other items in your home might be causing an adverse reaction. When purchasing new jewelry, it’s best to look for hypoallergenic pieces. Some jewelry is labeled nickel free, like certain stainless steel, titanium, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold. Jewelry of white gold or cobalt is probably better to avoid. These metals often contain nickel.

You might also want to consider a leather or plastic watch band instead of metal. Make certain that zippers and other clothing fasteners are coated metal or made of plastic, and choose plastic eyeglass frames next time you visit the optometrist. If you work around metal, you may be able to protect yourself by wearing gloves and other safety equipment.

If you experience allergic contact dermatitis and you believe that nickel sensitivity may be the problem, make an appointment with a dermatologist today. With a definitive diagnosis, it’s possible to treat a nickel allergy and to develop strategies that will help prevent future outbreaks. A board-certified dermatologist is your ally in the fight against this itchy, uncomfortable rash.