Nickel Allergy: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Treatment and Prevention

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An allergic reaction to nickel on a man hand

1Overview

Nickel is a common metal that is combined with other industrial metal to make jewelry, cell phones, watches and even coins. Nickel is almost found in all of our things that eventually people can acquire some problems when exposed to the same metal every day and Nickel Allergy is one of them. Nickel Allergy is a kind of contact dermatitis that is associated with a rash that usually affects the neck, arms, and earlobes.

The condition affects women more than men. In the United States alone about 40 percent of women have an allergy to nickel. When a person acquires nickel allergy is that it is most likely that it will stay.

The immune system detects the nickel on the skin and takes action that will result in a formation of a rash on the skin. Although it is not life-threatening the best way to avoid the reactions is to stop using accessories or things that might contain nickel.

2Symptoms

The symptoms are noticeable after 12 hours up to a day or two after the exposure to the allergy. The usual symptoms are rashes on the skin that is usually itchy where the nickel is directly in contact with the skin, sometimes rashes may appear on different parts of the body. These symptoms usually last longer than other allergy symptoms, it takes about a week or two before they disappear or heal.

Others symptoms are as follows:

  • Redness on the skin that is usually found in the surrounding areas of the skin
  • Dry patches on the skin sometimes have a scaly appearance due to the irritation of the
  • Blisters are seen in severe cases of allergic reaction, it is sometimes fluid-filled and may burst anytime and can cause an open wound that will be vulnerable to outside invaders like bacteria to colonize the wound and generate an infection on the skin.
  • Severe itching around the body may happen in prolonged exposure to nickel.
  • Warm skin is felt due to the inflammation of the skin.
  • When the rash is seen, there will be a high chance that the skin will also be dry because of the loss of moisture in the skin.

In some cases, it is not just the skin that is involved in a nickel allergy, in severe cases, the mouth, nose, and eyes can be affected when having a reaction to the allergen and can even go to the respiratory system:

  • There will be an inflammation of the airway passages and accompanied by nasal discharges and sometimes frequent sneezing.
  • Those who have a history of asthma will also deal with difficulty in breathing or asthma itself when exposed to allergen

3Causes

The immune system serves as the protector of the body against foreign bodies that tries to enter the body. The soldiers of the system which is the white blood cells recognize which is part of the body and which are not. It will send signals and alert the brain that there are invaders detected and the immune response will take place.

When the allergen, in this case, the Nickel, will be detected and perceived by the body as an antigen the antibodies that were made by the body will attack the nickel and this can cause a release of chemicals causing the symptoms.

The repeated exposure to things which has metals in it will eventually lead to hypersensitivity of the skin to having an allergy itself. The nickel-containing objects include:

  • Gadgets like cell phones, laptops and computer have a nickel content
  • The frame of our eyeglasses, jewelry like earrings, rings, and necklaces
  • Medical equipment used in the operating rooms
  • Parts of clothes that has metal in it like the zippers
  • Coins and keys
  • Since E-cigarettes are used for substitution for the actual cigarette, the casing of this equipment is made from metals that might have nickel in it and can cause respiratory symptoms when exposed to it.
  • Foods can also contain small amounts of the nickel like chocolates, soy milk, vegetables (asparagus, cauliflower, spinach etc.), Grains (Whole wheat, cereals, oats etc.) and fruits (bananas and including fruits that are preserved in a can).

4Risk Factors

Being exposed to nickel in a long period can increase the chances of the person to have that specific allergy but other factors can also affect how the person is at risk for having a nickel allergy.

Gender

Females have always worn jewelry like a pair of earrings, necklace, and rings. Having this can be a way to tell what the status of women in the society is before and to serve as an added beauty to their body.

Obesity

Studies show that having a Body mass index that is high has a higher risk for having a nickel allergy.

Family history

Just like other allergies, having a family member who has an allergy to metal like nickel can increase your risk of having the same type of allergy.

Piercings

Having the skin pierced with an earring that contains nickel will eventually increase the risk of having an allergy, especially when the person has multiple piercings.

Occupation

People who work in a field that uses mostly metals can greatly affect the worker regarding getting the allergy. The constant skin contact to the metal will trigger a hypersensitivity and can lead to a full-blown allergy. People who are working as a metalworker, bartenders, in the medical field and even tailors can have this allergy

Allergy to other things like dust or food can also trigger a hypersensitivity reaction to nickel.

5Treatment

For the treatment to be effective, the doctor should determine first the specific allergen.
A patch test can be done, the patch contains a controlled amount of nickel and is attached to the person for two days. If there are any skin reaction like inflammation, redness, and itchiness on the skin where the patch is enough for the doctor to diagnose that the patient has an allergy to nickel.

If the doctor can determine that the person has a metal allergy, proper treatments are available to counteract the symptoms that the patient is feeling. There are pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments that can be done by the patient to relieve the symptoms.

Medicines

Antihistamines

Antihistamines like Benadryl and cetirizine inhibits the action of histamines which cause the symptoms if ever they bind with the H1 and H2 receptors. There are also Nasal spray that can be used if the person is having a symptom that involves the respiratory system.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids like prednisone and methylprednisone reduce the inflammation on the skin and can also alleviate the pain and irritation around the skin.

Creams containing Corticosteroids are also prescribed to be applied directly on the affected skin like betamethasone dipropionate. There are also creams that do not contain steroids but is also as effective as the ones that have a steroid in it like Protopic.

Use the medications properly as the doctors instructed on how to take medicine orally and how to apply the cream.

Alternative Medicine

Home Remedies

Home remedies can be used as a reliever for other skin symptoms like the use of lotions that contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties like calamine lotion. A cold and a wet compress can be of help to relieve the irritation on the skin.

Seek medical help if the symptoms are not relieved by the prescribed treatment. Take note for pus and swelling on the skin and inform your physician immediately.

Phototherapy

Although it could take a month to see the full effect of this therapy, the doctors use this treatment if the medications are not working for the patient and their symptoms are getting worse. The exposure to ultraviolet will help reduce the symptoms of nickel allergy.

6Prevention

Avoiding exposure to metals especially the ones that contain Nickel is especially hard because some of them are found in the house and also at work. So to reduce the exposure or direct contact with the metal here are some tips.

  • Avoid using clothes that have metals as decorations and consider replacing them with a plastic material to reduce skin contact to the metal.
  • Consider buying hypoallergenic accessories to avoid the symptoms of having exposed to nickel. If the person is married, ask a jeweler to make you a hypoallergenic ring or made in platinum.
  • Almost all people have cell phones and laptops, to avoid being in contact with the metal part of the device you can cover it with a casing that is of plastic material.
  • Do buy plastic or titanium based utensils in the household.
  • Avoid eating foods rich in Nickel like soy products, vegetables and even fruits rich in nickel.
  • When working, use protective gear like gloves and face masks for preventive measures.
  • Read labels of the material you are buying to avoid unwanted exposure to the metal.
  • Inform your co-workers and your boss that you have an allergy to nickel. It is important for others to know that you have an allergy in case of emergencies.