Medically Reviewed on 12/3/2021
Nickel allergies are common in 10 percent of the population in the United States and 18 percent of people in North America, including 11 million children.
Nickel is one of the most common causes of skin rashes caused by an allergy. About 10 percent of the population in the United States and more than 18 percent of people in North America are allergic to it, including 11 million children.
You are not born with a nickel allergy. You acquire it with time after you are born. It is mostly encountered during an ear-piercing event. As more women tend to wear jewelry or have nose or ear piercings than men, nickel allergy is much more common in women than in men.
How do you know if you are allergic to nickel?
You know you are allergic to nickel if exposure to nickel-containing items causes skin rashes and itchiness in the part that has come into contact with it (contact dermatitis), including these items:
- Jewelry (especially earrings)
- Mobile phones
- Metal tools
- Bathroom fixtures
- Furniture parts
- Machinery parts
What are the symptoms of nickel allergy?
If you are allergic to nickel, you may develop any of the skin conditions, including:
- Allergic contact dermatitis (eczema): If you have developed allergic contact dermatitis, it may take as long as 72 hours for the allergic reaction to appear. Symptoms include a red rash with itching.
- Contact urticaria: Contact urticarial is an immediate hive-like reaction on exposure to nickel, but this is rare. It may take about 10 to 60 minutes to appear and may go away within 24 hours after removing the nickel-containing accessory.
- Irritant contact dermatitis: Repeated exposure to nickel can cause irritant contact dermatitis. The symptoms usually develop slowly or may develop at once in some cases. Repeated attacks of irritant contact dermatitis can increase your risk of developing allergic contact dermatitis.
The symptoms of nickel allergy can range from mild to severe. You may develop any skin rash, including:
- Red skin
- Cracked skin
Severe nickel allergy can cause symptoms, including:
How does nickel cause skin allergy?
- Sweat leaches the nickel from the nickel-containing item with which you have come in contact.
- Ear piercing releases fluid in which the nickel from the earring gets dissolved.
- Once you get exposed to nickel, your body recognizes it as a foreign body and produces a chemical called histamine.
- This histamine triggers your immune system to produce an allergic reaction.
Allergies can best be described as:
How is nickel allergy diagnosed?
Your doctor will look at the skin rash and ask for any contact with substances that contain nickel.
If they suspect you have an allergy to nickel, they will ask for a patch test. In this test, small amounts of nickel will be placed on your back for two days.
You will be called after two to three days to check if there is any reaction.
How can you test yourself for nickel allergy?
There are at-home testing kits available that can let you know if you have a nickel allergy.
If you suspect that using any of the nickel-containing items, such as earrings or watches, has resulted in skin rashes, a spot test can help you know if the item contains nickel. This can help you identify if you have a nickel allergy.
The spot test contains a solution and a cotton-tipped applicator.
- You first have to put two to three drops of the solution on the applicator and rub gently on the item.
- Observe the color on the applicator.
- If it turns pink, the item contains nickel and will likely cause skin allergy if you have nickel allergy.
Can nickel allergy go away?
Nickel allergy has no cure, but some treatments help provide relief from the symptoms. However, if you have a nickel allergy, the only way is to avoid contact with nickel-containing items.
If you develop a nickel allergy, you can use over-the-counter lotions (such as calamine lotion), creams, and oatmeal baths to alleviate the skin rash and itching. Applying wet compresses can help relieve itching.
You can prepare them by soaking a clean cloth in any of the following:
- Tap water
- Burow’s solution
- An over-the-counter medication containing aluminum acetate
Your doctor may prescribe medications that include:
- Corticosteroid cream
- Antihistamine pills
- Corticosteroid pills or injections
If these treatments do not help, your doctor may recommend phototherapy, which involves exposing your skin to ultraviolet light over various sessions.
How to prevent nickel allergy
The best way to deal with nickel allergy is to stay away from nickel-containing items or minimize your exposure to them. Here are a few tips that you can follow.
Choose jewelry carefully
You need to be careful while buying jewelry, such as earrings, earring backs, watches, bracelets, necklaces. Look for the ones that come with the following features:
- Made from metals, such as surgical-grade stainless steel, pure sterling silver, 18-, 22- or 24-karat yellow gold, or platinum
Shift to watchbands made of other materials, such as leather, cloth, or plastic.
Check your clothing
Clothing accessories, such as zippers, snaps, belt buckles, bra hooks, and metal buttons are most likely to contain nickel. While buying again, look for the ones that are plastic or coated with plastic.
If you have already had nickel-containing clothing accessories, coat them with nail polish to create a barrier.
Some of the electronic devices that you use daily, including cell phones and laptops, may contain nickel. Cover them with a protective cover, such as plastic to avoid exposure.
Replace household objects, such as keys, razors, and utensils, containing nickel with objects made of other materials.
Moisturizers and emollient creams can create a barrier between your skin and the nickel-containing items. Use them regularly to avoid developing a nickel allergy.
Common Allergies: Symptoms and Signs
Medically Reviewed on 12/3/2021
Image Source: iStock Images
Cleveland Clinic. Nickel Allergy. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17842-nickel-allergy
American Academy of Dermatology. Nickel allergy: how to avoid exposure and reduce symptoms. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/insider/nickel-allergy