Nickel

Simultaneously on a decades-long decline in Europe, nickel allergies are on the rise in the United States. In 1992, a Danish study found that children in Denmark suffered a whopping 25 percent allergy rate to nickel. The Danish Ministry of Environment stepped in and enacted regulations to reduce the content of nickel in everything from jewelry to eyeglasses. The restrictions worked—sensitivity among kids dropped to just 9.2 percent within years.

The rest of Europe followed suit, with countries across the continent setting their own limits on nickel. While the European Union saw similar drops in their allergy rates similar to as compared to the Danesthose in Denmark, the United States. experienced a nearly two-fold increase in nickel allergies during the same period.

One of the reasons is because nickel is common in several everyday products, according to Sharon Jacob, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. "It's not only in jewelry," she says, "Because it's such a malleable metal and easy to work with, it's used in zippers, snaps, babies' onesies, belt buckles, paper clips, and even cell phones and vitamins." 

Rates increased with the popularity of body piercing as well.

Symptoms

A person with a nickel allergy will usually begin to develop contact dermatitis within 12 to 48 hours of exposure to a nickel-containing item such as jewelry or certain food products. The symptoms of a nickel allergy include:

  • rash or skin bumps
  • redness or other changes in skin color
  • itching (possibly severe)
  • dry patches on the skin that resemble a burn
  • blisters (in very severe cases)
  • sweat at the point of contact with nickel may worsen the symptoms as well 
  • rash

Nickel is one of the main causes of the rash known as allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). A person with a nickel allergy will almost always endure a localized response following exposure to a nickel-containing item. ACD has symptoms such as:

  • scaling
  • erythema (redness or a rash)
  • vesicles (fluid-filled blisters)
  • pruritus (severe itching)

The rash usually lasts between two and four weeks after the exposure. If you experience increased redness, pain, warmth, or pus in the rash area, should contact his your doctor, as it may be a sign of infection.

Treatment

There is no cure for a nickel allergy. As with other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen.

Your doctor may prescribe one of the following medications for a nickel allergy rash:

  • corticosteroid cream
  • oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone
  • oral antihistamine, such as Allegra

Foods to Avoid

Nickel shows up in a surprisingly large number of foods and food products. Foods to avoid include:

  • grains: buckwheat, oats, oatmeal, whole wheat, and multigrain breads and cereals, wheat germ, and whole wheat pasta
  • vegetables: asparagus, beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, lentils, peas, spinach, soy products (including tofu), and all canned vegetables
  • fruit: bananas, pears, and all canned fruits and canned fruit cocktails
  • dairy: chocolate milk
  • meat: processed meat with fillers or coatings, shellfish, and all canned meats or fish

Other sources of dietary nickel to avoid include black tea, chocolate and cocoa powders, commercial salad dressings, nuts, seeds, vitamins that contain nickel, and all other canned foods not mentioned above.

A person with a nickel allergy should also abstain from using stainless steel cooking vessels and drinking the first quart of tap water from a faucet. Studies have found that taking a vitamin C supplement with each meal as well as eating an iron-rich diet can help prevent absorption of nickel in the body.

How to Test for Nickel Allergy

An allergist or dermatologist can usually diagnose a nickel allergy based on the appearance of a patient's skin. A patch test may also be employed. In a patch test, the doctor applies a very small amount of the suspected allergen (in this case, nickel) to a small patch that is then placed on the skin and checked for a reaction.

Braces

Permanent orthodontic braces that contain nickel were once thought to help a person build a tolerance to nickel. That doesn't seem to be the case, however, as it appears braces may sensitize a person to nickel in much the same way body piercings do. Nickel in braces should therefore be avoided if an allergy is suspected.

Jewelry

Nickel has been the most frequent cause of contact allergies for decades and jewelry is the number one reason.

"The prevalence of nickel allergy is increasing, and (body) piercings are driving nickel allergy in general," says Joseph Fowler, M.D., F.A.A.D.., a dermatologist and Clinical professor of Dermatology, at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.

Nickel Allergy Eczema

?Ingestion of nickel in food and food -products may trigger an immune response that causes systematic reactions such as hand dermatitis or eczema. An individual with either condition should contact their doctor and take steps to remove nickel from their diet.