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Nickel Allergy

Written by Dr.Mary

What is Nickel Allergy?

Nickel allergy is an immune reaction on the skin triggered in the body as a response to prolonged contact or exposure to items containing the metallic element nickel. It is a common form of contact dermatitis, manifesting itself through the development of a rash on the surface of the skin.

A nickel allergy may often be unexpected as this silver-white metal can be a standard ingredient in many natural as well as man-made materials. It is most frequently brought about by wearing jewellery or other types of accessories which include nickel as a component, thus often appearing on the ears or fingers where nickel-containing earrings or rings may have been worn. The allergy however can also arise from other seemingly harmless items such as coins or even eyeglass frames, as long as direct and extended contact with the skin is made. Many more objects as typical as hairpins, buttons, and zippers can even bring about the rash.

The allergy can develop in anyone, depending on whether or not the person has an increased sensitivity to the element, but the condition is not at all life-threatening or serious, merely resulting in the itchiness and inflammation of the area that had come into contact with the metal. Continuous or repeated contact with the item containing nickel is usually necessary to provoke the allergy, but once the reaction develops, treatment is fairly simple and avoidance is enough to prevent any future recurrences of the allergic response.

Nickel Allergy Symptoms

The symptoms of a nickel allergy are fairly easy to spot as they typically appear on areas of the body which were able to come into direct contact with any item containing the metal. It is only in rare cases that the rashes may develop on sites other than those that touched the metallic element. To help identify the condition, a nickel allergy most often has the following distinct features:

  • Appearance of rashes on the surface of the skin
  • Rashes are uncomfortable and exhibit itchiness, itching may be severe in some cases
  • Bumps may exhibit changes in color such as redness and inflammation due to irritation
  • Affected areas may eventually appear dried up and scaly
  • Less commonly, blistering or formation of fluid-filled bumps may occur
  • Aggravated by sweating
  • Allergic response will usually occur within a period of 12 – 48 hours following the initial contact or exposure to nickel
  • Rashes may remain present for up to 4 weeks, in severe cases

The skin rash associated with a nickel allergy is usually easily eliminated through simple over-the-counter medications that ease itchiness and inflammation, however, in rare cases, the reaction may not be as easy to manage and may exhibit signs of infection. Watch out for the following symptoms that indicate the development of an infection as the situation will warrant further treatment and professional medical management:

  • Pain at the affected site
  • Severe redness and inflammation
  • Sensation of warmth at the affected area
  • Visible collection of pus underneath the affected skin

Nickel Allergy Causes

A nickel allergy is merely caused by an intrinsic inability of our body to tolerate the element nickel. The immune system is genetically programmed to devise antibodies for myriads of different infections and diseases, so in the event that an invasion of the body by foreign substances occurs, the immune response can kick in and be able to combat these unwanted elements. The immune system is not however without fault and certain natural and innate flaws one’s immune system may have may affect the body’s ability to distinguish between substances that are harmful and harmless, leading to the development of an allergic or immune response despite the lack of cause for alarm in the body’s system. This is exactly the case with a nickel allergy, as the metal does not at all pose any threat but certain constituents found in the natural make-up of the element still trigger the immune system, causing the mobilization of the antibodies that start up the inflammatory reaction to the nickel.


The treatment of nickel as an allergen rather than the harmless element that it is will begin upon the first contact made with this metal, allowing the body some time to cultivate the antibodies made specifically for nickel. Once sensitization has begun, other subsequent response will develop much more quickly as antibodies for the metal are already readily available. The allergy is not entirely understood but it has often been attributed to genetic factors.

Nickel can be derived from many typical items, so care must be taken to avoid anything that may include nickel as a component. Some of these objects include jewellery, watchbands, zippers, bra hooks, hairpins, coins, keys, paper clips, and countless more items. Nickel may also be found in things people take in or consume such as drinking water or food like nuts, chocolates, and dried fruit. Hence, if allergic responses are severe, a low-nickel diet may be needed to avoid the reaction.

Nickel Allergy Treatment

An allergy to nickel cannot be cured, but the reaction that occurs can be treated. The treatment regimen for the allergic response to nickel is the same for most rashes. This will usually involve the topical application of various anti-itch or anti-inflammatory ointments or creams to control the symptoms. In some cases, oral forms of the medications may be needed if the reaction is severe. The most common topical form of therapy is through corticosteroid creams, specifically clobetasol or betamethasone dipropionate. In oral forms, the corticosteroid may be taken as prednisone – which is usually only resorted to if the rash is extreme and appears on wider areas. Antihistamines also contribute to healing, as they control the factors within the body responsible for initiating the itchiness and redness. Examples of these include fexofenadine and cetirizine.

Certain home remedies also help with the allergic reaction. The symptoms can be relieved with the use of usual household items like calamine lotion or cold compresses. These contribute to soothing away itching and inflammation.

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