Nickel allergy is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis: an itchy rash that occurs when your skin touches a normally harmless substance.
Nickel allergy is often associated with earrings and other jewelry. But nickel can be found in many everyday items such as coins, zippers, mobile phones and eyeglass frames.
There may be repeated or prolonged exposure to objects containing nickel for the development of nickel alloys. Treatments can reduce the symptoms of nickel allergy. However, as soon as you develop a nickel alloy, you will always be sensitive to metal and avoid contact.
What are the symptoms of nickel allergy?
People with a nickel allergy generally begin to develop a reaction on the skin within 12 to 48 hours after contact with a nickel-containing article. Symptoms of nickel allergy include:
- Skin rash or bumps
- Redness or other changes in skin color
- Fire-like dry skin spots
- Blisters (in very severe cases)
Nickel is also one of the leading causes of skin rashes known as allergic contact dermatitis. A person with a nickel allergy will almost always have a localized reaction after exposure to nickel-containing objects. This means that the allergic reaction affects only the part of the skin that comes in contact with the nickel.
Eating foods that contain small amounts of nickel may also cause an immune response that causes changes in the skin.
Allergic contact dermatitis causes the following symptoms:
- Severe itching
- Scaly, rough or thickened skin
- Dry, discolored or rough skin
- Warm and soft skin
- Ampoules filled with liquid
The rash usually lasts two to four weeks after exposure.
In rare cases, nickel allergy can also cause airway problems, including:
- running nose
- Nose infections
People with this type of reaction should take precautionary measures immediately.
How is a nickel allergy diagnosed?
Your doctor or dermatologist can diagnose a nickel allergy. Call them right away if you have a rash on the skin and do not know what caused it. Your doctor will first ask you about your symptoms, even if they have already started and what makes them appear worse. Tell your doctor about medications, dietary supplements, or new foods and products that you have tried recently.
A patch test is often performed when a nickel allergy is suspected. During the pavement test, your doctor will apply a small amount of nickel to a patch. The patch is placed on the skin. Patch tests are generally very safe and should not cause any major allergic reaction. They will only cause a minor reaction in people who are allergic to nickel.
Your doctor will monitor your skin about 48 hours after the pavement test and check for signs of an allergic reaction. If the skin looks irritated, you are allergic to nickel. However, if the cause of the rash is not apparent, your doctor may recommend a pavement test (contact allergy test). He may refer you to an allergist or a dermatologist for this test.
During a patch test, very small amounts of potential allergens (including nickel) are applied to the skin and covered with small patches. The patches remain on the skin for two days before the doctor removes them. If you have a nickel allergy, the skin will ignite underneath the nickel patch when the patch is removed or in the days after the patch is removed.
Due to the low concentration of allergens, patch tests are also safe for people with severe allergies.
There is no cure for nickel allergy. As soon as you develop a sensitivity to nickel, develop a rash (contact dermatitis) as soon as it comes in contact with the metal.
Your doctor may prescribe one of the following medications to reduce irritation and improve the condition of a rash in an allergic reaction to nickel:
- corticosteroid cream, such as clobetasol (Clobex, Cormax, others) and betamethasone dipropionate (diprolene). Long-term use can lead to thinning of the skin.
- Non-steroidal creams such as Pimecrolimus (Elidel) and Tacrolimus (Protopic). The most common side effect is temporary stinging at the application site.
- oral corticosteroid, prednisone, if the reaction is severe or a rash covers a large area. These medications can cause a variety of side effects, which include weight gain, mood swings and increased blood pressure.
- Oral antihistamine such as fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) to relieve itching. However, these may not be very effective in itching of the skin.
This treatment involves exposing your skin to controlled amounts of artificial ultraviolet light. It is usually reserved for people who have not improved with topical or oral steroids. Phototherapy can take months to affect an allergic reaction to nickel.
Lifestyle & Home Remedies
You can use some of the following home treatments to treat contact dermatitis due to nickel allergy. If these treatments do not help or if the skin has a rash, contact your doctor. Home remedies include the following:
- Use soothing lotions, for example, bile lotion, which can relieve itching.
- Moisten regularly. Your skin has a natural barrier that is interrupted by reaction to nickel and other allergens. The use of emollient creams or lotions, such as petroleum jelly or mineral oil, may reduce your need for topical corticosteroids.
- Apply moist compresses, dry the bubbles and relieve itching. Soak a clean cloth in tap water or Burows solution, a drug-free drug containing aluminum acetate.
Avoid certain over-the-counter ointments, such as antibiotic creams, which may contain ingredients, especially neomycin, that can worsen an allergic reaction.