Metal Allergies -Is Nickel Allergy Real?

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Metal allergy - Nickel allergy

Metal Allergies -Is Nickel Allergy Real?

How much do you know about metal allergies? specifically, about nickel allergy?

The study of allergies really began in the 1800s despite the fact that allergies have been affecting us since the dawn of the time!

They’ve been documented in history, throughout the Ancient Roman, China, Egypt, and Greek eras.  Allergies have been known to us for over 150 years, all thanks to the advancement of medicine!

Statistics from WebMD has it that 1 out of 5 Americans is suffering from one kind of allergic symptom or the other, and surprisingly, a staggering 55% of the whole US population tested positive to at least one allergen, sometimes even more!

Do you think that’s shocking? You’d better think again!

Considering the gazillions types of allergens existing on earth, I’d say 55% is pretty acceptable! Allergies have become part of our lives, part of who we are, such that every household around the world is guilty of harboring at least one or more types of allergen!

These indoor allergens, though, may not be harmful or irritate us, do exist, right there in our homes, and they are more common than we may think!

Apart from dust and pet furs allergens, there are many other allergens around us, for example:

  • house plants
  • mold
  • pollen
  • pet skin sheddings (dander)
  • food
  • chemical sprays
  • insect feces
  • cloth fabrics
  • smoke
  • metals

When some of these allergens come in contact with our bodies, they introduce a chemical “body” into our bloodstream and thus triggering a response attack by our immune system, the white blood cells.

Our immune system sees these foreign bodies as invasive threats and that triggers a cleansing attack. Inflammation is the after-effect of our immune system’s “victory” in successfully attacking and eradicating these foreign bodies hence causing an allergic reaction.

Contrarily to viruses and bacteria, our immune systems do no react to an allergen which it hasn’t encountered initially, that means, allergen sensitization (or multiple exposure to one type of allergen) must occur before our immune systems see these foreign bodies are threats, before attacking it.

Nickel Allergy – Number One Cause Of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Among all these allergens, the most fascinating and common is a metal allergen. Metal allergies, as exotic as it may sound are quite popular.

Notoriously known by its red, swollen (edema), itchiness of the affected site, which sometimes may include rashes, blistering and skin scaling, this allergic reaction to metal is no joke, it is also medically known as Allergic contact dermatitis(ACD).

There is no permanent cure for Allergic contact dermatitis, the only available treatment is for easing and controlling the symptoms. Allergic contact dermatitis affects about 10 – 30% of the world’s population and that’s probably because you can find its allergen in many items, foods, accessories, etc. all around the world.

The main trigger of most metal allergy (contact allergy) is nickel, not nickel as in the money used in the United States, but nickel (Ni from the periodic table), a metal, thus allergic contact dermatitis’s (or eczema) ubiquitous manifestation and existence is mostly due to the sensitization of nickel.

Nickel is commonly used as a base metal due to its properties; malleability, availability, and price.

Common Triggers of Nickel Allergy

Nickel can be commonly found in the following items:

  • Earrings
  • Rings
  • Necklaces
  • Eyeglasses
  • Cosmetics
  • Water
  • Food (More on this below)
  • Bra hooks and buckles
  • Clothing zippers
  • Metallic buttons
  • Coins
  • Tooth (dental) fillings
  • Archwires/braces
  • Piercings
  • Keys
  • Surgical implants
  • Metallic items
  • Cookware and Utensils – pots, spoons, etc.
  • Bathroom and toilet fittings
  • The metallic parts of home furniture
  • Appliance batteries
  • Nickel-plated alloys
  • And of course phones

From the list above, one can see that Nickel(Ni) can be found in many daily consumer products.

Further reading here: household items that contain nickel

Don’t be scared now, nickel is also needed for healthy living, specifically for keeping nickel deficiency at bay. Nickel is also used in the treatment of osteoporosis and iron deficiency because it assists in the metabolic release of calcium and iron.

Nickel is almost unavoidable, unless certain steps and precautions are taken. it is a trace element, traces amount of nickel can also be found in many food items such as wheat, nuts, etc.

Research showed that for the general population, food and drinking water is the major medium of exposure, up to 300mcg(microgram) per day.

Among all the sensitizing agents known to cause allergic contact dermatitis, Nickel is the most common agent, especially in the united states, partly because there are no government-approved standards restricting the percentage use of nickel in consumer goods labeled as “nickel free” or “hypoallergenic”,

conversely, in Europe, there has been a decreased occurrence of nickel allergy, thanks to Europe’s implementation of a strict and standardized nickel regulation on the use of nickel on consumer products.

Research says that anyone could develop an allergy to any metal. Therefore, nickel isn’t the only culprit on the matters of contact dermatitis.

We can suddenly become sensitive to other metals, not just the base metals, but also precious metals, and end up with hand eczema symptoms which can cause itchy scaly-red symptoms, and they include: 

  • Cobalt
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Zinc
  • Silver (include sterling silver)
  • Platinum
  • Gold (Including red gold and white gold)
  • Palladium 
  • Molybdenum
  • Mercury

Most who are allergic to metals are mostly allergic to the “base metal” present in the item. Nickel and steel are found in many consumer goods since they are the most used base metals. 

Thankfully, only a small percentage of people have non-nickel metal hypersensitivity, only about 1-3% are sensitive to precious metals such as gold, platinum, palladium, etc, compared to 18-28.5% who are allergic to nickel.

Symptoms of metal allergy(and nickel allergy)

Allergic contact dermatitis, also referred to as contact eczema is the result of a person’s allergic reaction to metal allergens. The signs of nickel allergy are always localized, that meaning it almost always appears directly at the area where there was a contact with the allergen(metal) if it was via an external contact, ie. the skin,

It is called a systemic nickel allergic reaction when the symptoms spread in other parts of the body, the whole body might be covered with rashes in most severe cases.

These symptoms are also identical to most other allergic alloy metals like stainless steel alloy jewelry, brass-nickel alloy, unlike most people think, when brass turns skin green it isn’t because of an allergic reaction, but it’s due to oxidation.

These symptoms include:

  • Sunburn-looking red rashes covering the point of allergen contact.
  • Itchiness, this could range from mild to insanely severe itching.
  • Dry scaly skin.
  • Cracked skin.
  • Blisters and bumps(in severe cases) that get further inflamed due to continuous scratching.

If the symptoms are not managed and treated, it may lead to darker skin, and often times will remain cracked, leathery and sensitive to touch. Unless the allergen contact is discovered and eradicated, the symptoms may get worse, additionally, body sweats may make the rashes worse too. When this happens, the epidermis (skin) will become infected with pus-filled blisters and bumps.

Many food products shockingly have traces of nickel present in them. Hence, nickel ingestion is unavoidable, unless you plan to cut out most food products, deprive yourself of many healthy food products, and possibly starve yourself, and that’s not a realistic option.

Here are some lists of food products that contain nickel:

  • Tea (mostly black tea).
  • Several nuts and readily available seeds such as peanuts.
  • Soy products such as soy milk, bean curd (tofu),  etc.
  • Chocolate products such as chocolate bars, powders, milk, etc.
  • Cocoa powders.
  • Some fruits such as bananas, pears, and all canned fruits.
  • Some processed food products, such as meat, and fish.
  • Some canned food products such as canned vegetables, canned fish, etc.
  • Grains such as whole wheat products ( e.g pasta), wheat germ, oat, buckwheat, and cereals.
  • Some vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower.
  • some legumes such as peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

For a more complete list of nickel-containing food products, low nickel food products, and nickel allergy food pyramid picture click on this link, additionally, we created a simple tool to help you check the amount of nickel content in over 200 foods, this is a pretty helpful little tool, especially for maintaining a low-nickel diet

Metal allergy symptoms often show up between 12 to 72 hours (on some occasions, even longer) after the initial exposure to the allergen and on some hypersensitivity cases, symptoms may become visible in minutes.

According to one research, it was estimated that around 20% to 28.5% of the world’s total population is sensitive (sensitized) to nickel, and about 25% being women, in the United States alone, 36% of young women who are 18years and under are sensitive to nickel allergen.

Wheat is the most common trigger for nickel ingestion. A severe reaction to excessive contact or ingestion of nickel allergen may result in systemic nickel allergy syndrome. 

This syndrome is characterized by contact dermatitis, linked with symptoms quite similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (vomiting, diarrhea, headache, nausea, and tiredness) hence, if the condition is not properly diagnosed, it may be falsely ruled out as systemic nickel allergy syndrome. 

What is the cure for Metal allergies such as nickel allergy?

unfortunately, there’s no cure for most allergies, including metal allergies. if you’ve become sensitive to any metal like nickel, gold, etc, you flare-up with a rash whenever you come in contact with its allergen.

Avoidance of trigger allergen is the most practical (sometimes not practical) “cure” for it. After an allergic reaction has taken place, removing/eliminating the triggering agent will result in the disappearance of the rash.

Take proper precautions like knowing the known list of foods high in nickel and conversely, you need to know your low nickel foods too!

Treatment for metal allergies, in this case, nickel allergies has only one purpose, i.e, to reduce the irritation and inflammation caused by the allergic metal.

It’s quite easy to diagnose a nickel allergy since it’s symptoms are localized to the point of contact, as previously mentioned above, an elimination process will be enough to find out the cause of your allergy. If an elimination method is n’t enough, a visit to the doctor will be advised. There the doctor will perform an allergy test, i.e, a patch test.

Once you or your doctor have done a proper assessment and diagnosed the cause of your allergic reaction, depending on the severeness of your symptoms, the doctor might prescribe some ointments, creams, and skin lotion for application on the affected areas.

Alternatively, the doctor may prescribe some medications, these might be in the form of histamine-blocking medications called Antihistamines (most popular being Benadryl) which will block the allergic reaction from happening, or topical medications such as corticosteroids, which will fight the skin flaring symptoms.

What to do when you’re allergic to nickel

Now that you know what a nickel allergy is, the next step is eliminating most or all nickel-made items, jewelry, cookware, utensils, etc from your drawer, cupboards, and closet, and replacing them with non-nickel based alternatives, most of which are labeled as “nickel-free” or “hypoallergenic”, fortunately, we have done that work for you so you don’t have to.

The staff member at TooAllergic.com has carried out extensive research and have put together a massive list of the best alternatives to nickel, this list will definitely help you eradicate a lot of nickel exposure in your daily routine as much as possible!

Before diving into this list, we HIGHLY recommend you buy a nickel test kit and use that a second 2-factor verification before you put it on your sensitive, delicate skin.

Like we previously mentioned earlier, a “nickel-free” doesn’t have a 100% guarantee on the absence of nickel, but ofc that doesn’t mean there are products which are labeled as nickel-free that aren’t legitly nickel-free, however in order to be 100% sure, the test kit is highly recommended.   

Best Metal Earrings for sensitive ears and nickel allergy folks

 references

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667300/
  • https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/resources-consumers-cosmetics/cosmetics-safety-qa-hypoallergenic
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6398286
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10382559
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31140194
  • https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1049216-overview#a1
  • http://www.aad.org/
  • https://www.pennstatehershey.org/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=0888ec6e-3d2f-4766-833e-b38bd920ffcd&groupId=102184
Medical Disclaimer

Welcome to Too Allergic. I’m Agnes, I’m not an allergy specialist nor a medical professional, and I’m not posing as such. However, I do enjoy researching and collecting data about things that matter to me, which is about my mom and my son’s allergic condition. Please, do not substitute any information on tooallergic.com for professional advice from a licensed medical practitioner, always confirm with your doctor first.