Nickel Allergy: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention
Nickel allergy is one of the most commonly occurring skin allergies. It is a form of allergic contact dermatitis that causes an itchy rash on the area of the skin exposed to a nickel-containing item.
Nickel is a normally a harmless substance that is widely used in production of jewelry, as well as numerous everyday items like cellphones, zippers, eyeglass frames, and even coins.
An allergic reaction to nickel may be triggered by repeated or prolonged exposure to this chemical. You can ease the nickel allergy symptoms using various treatments. However, it is not possible to actually cure the sensitivity to the metal, meaning you will have to avoid contact with the allergen to prevent an allergic reaction.
What Are the Symptoms of a Nickel Allergy?
It may take from several hours to several days until the skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to nickel appears. Sometimes, people may experience the symptoms for as long as two to four weeks. In most cases, the skin reaction to nickel appears on the area of the skin that touched a trigger and leads to the symptoms like rash or hives (in severe cases, with blisters and draining fluid), dry patches of skin resembling a burn, redness or changing color of the skin, and mild to severe itching.
If you notice that something causes you to have a skin rash, you should see your healthcare provider. People who have already been diagnosed with a nickel allergy can use various allergy treatment products or home remedies recommended by an allergist. In case over-the-counter treatments don’t seem to improve your symptoms, you should seek for medical help. Sometimes, the symptoms may get worse because of some infection. If you notice any symptoms of an infection, such as increased pain, increased redness, warmth and pus in the affected area of the skin, you should call your doctor as soon as possible.
What Is Nickel Allergy Caused by?
Experts are still not sure about the exact cause of an allergic reaction to nickel. It happens when your immune system mistakenly recognizes nickel as a harmful substance and releases antibodies to fight off the invader. However, normally, the immune system provides such protection only against viruses, bacteria or toxic substances.
Nickel allergy does not necessarily develop right after your first exposure to nickel, it may also appear after repeated or prolonged exposure to this chemical. Besides, you may partly inherit the sensitivity to nickel.
If you once develop an allergy to nickel, your immune system will always react to nickel-containing items and cause the allergic symptoms.
Where Is Nickel Found?
There are many different items that may contain nickel, including all types of jewelry (earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings and body piercings), cellphones, laptops or tablets, zippers, bra hook, watchbands, belt buckles, coins, keys, glass frames, e-cigarettes, metal instruments, medical devices, military ID and chalk.
Who Is at Risk of Developing an Allergy to Nickel?
There are various risk factors associated with the development of nickel allergies. For instance, nickel is widely used in jewelry, therefore, permanently worn jewelry pieces like earrings or piercings are one of the most common triggers of a nickel allergy.
Those who are constantly exposed to nickel because of their occupation are more likely to develop nickel allergies than those who normally stay away from it. People like bartenders, domestic cleaners, or food industry workers are at an increased risk for nickel allergies, since they come into frequent contact with nickel and water. Allergies to nickel may also affect metalworkers, hairdressers, as well as tailors.
Interestingly, female population is more prone to developing a nickel allergy, which is probably because women usually wear more jewelry than men. Besides, there is a study showing that overweight females are even more likely to react to nickel products.
As it was mentioned earlier, a tendency to having a nickel allergy may be also inherited from other members of your family.
Finally, if you are allergic to other metals, you are likely to have a sensitivity to nickel, too.
How to Prevent an Allergic Reaction to Nickel?
Unfortunately, a nickel allergy is not curable, and the reaction to it can’t be prevented. The only way to prevent the development of allergy is to avoid frequent exposure to things that contain nickel.
Those who are already allergic to nickel are recommended to stay away from metal products.
Because nickel is contained in so many items, avoiding it may be quite challenging. You may want to acquire special home test kits that help to check for nickel in various metal pieces.
To start with, to reduce your exposure to nickel, make sure that the jewelry your use is only made of hypoallergenic metals including 18-karat yellow gold, titanium, stainless steel and surgical grade stainless steel. Although the latter may contain some amounts of nickel, it is safe for most people. In addition, yellow gold and sterling silver jewelries are also nickel-free.
If you decided to get a body piercing, you should make a research on various regulations suggested by your local health department concerning piercing studios. Choose the one that follows all the important regulations associated with hygiene, necessary equipment, licensing, etc. Studio workers should only use sterile, nickel-free or hypoallergenic needles coming in sealed packages. The jewelry products sold in the studio should also be hypoallergenic and accompanied by documentation of their metal content.
There are lots of things containing nickel in our everyday lives. However, if you have a nickel allergy, you will need to look for nickel-free alternatives. You can replace metal watchbands with those made of plastic, leather or cloth. Choose nickel-free zippers and fasteners that are made of plastic or coated metals. Plastic and titanium eyeglass frames are also hypoallergenic.
If you are often exposed to nickel because of work or any other reason, experts recommend creating some kind of a barrier between your skin and nickel. Thus, wearing gloves and covering buttons, zippers or tool handles with a tape or a clear barrier (e.g. Nickel Guard) may help to protect your skin from the allergen. You can also try covering your jewelry with a clear nail polish; however, you will probably need to reapply it repeatedly.