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Nickel Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, Sources of Exposure, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Sep 05, 2023

Nickel Allergy

Nickel allergy is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis, which appears as an itchy rash when your skin comes into contact with a chemical that is usually harmless.

Nickel allergy and jewelry, including earrings, are frequently connected. Nevertheless, nickel is a widely used metal that may be found in a variety of everyday items, including coins, zippers, eyeglass frames, cosmetics, detergents, and even some modern electronics like computers and cell phones.

One may need to be exposed to nickel frequently or for a prolonged amount of time in order to develop an allergy to the metal. Nickel allergy symptoms can be managed with treatment. On the other hand, due to your sensitivity, people with nickel allergies must always avoid contact with the metal.

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Causes Of Nickel Allergy

It is unclear what specifically causes nickel allergy. Nickel allergy arises when, as with other allergies, your immune system perceives nickel as a potentially harmful material rather than a chemical that is safe to be around. Your immune system typically only reacts to defend your body from germs, viruses, or poisonous chemicals.

Your immune system will always be sensitive to an agent (allergen) after it has caused a reaction in your body, in this case, nickel. In other words, your immune system will react to nickel exposure by mounting an allergic reaction.

Nickel sensitivity in your immune system might emerge during your initial exposure as well as following subsequent or persistent exposure.

Symptoms Of Nickel Allergy

After being exposed to nickel, an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) typically starts within hours to days. It could take up to four weeks for the reaction to stop. The reaction usually only manifests itself when your skin first comes into contact with nickel, though it occasionally may spread to other parts of your body.

Signs and symptoms of nickel allergy include:

  • Pimples or rashes on the skin
  • Itching which may become severe
  • Redness or variations in skin tone
  • Dry skin areas that may resemble burns
  • Blisters, and in more serious situations, fluid-draining

Exposure to nickel sources

Typical objects that could expose you to nickel include:

  • Body piercing jewelry
  • Rings, bracelets, necklaces, and jewelry clasps are further pieces of jewelry
  • Watchbands
  • Clothing fasteners like zippers, snaps, and bra hooks
  • Belt fasteners
  • Eyeglasses frames
  • Coins
  • Metal instruments
  • Cellphones
  • Keys
  • Military identification "dog-tag"
  • Chalk
  • Medical equipment
  • Tablets or laptops
  • E-cigarettes
  • Foods containing nickel may have an impact on some persons who are particularly sensitive. Foods high in nickel include soy products, peas, canned goods, cocoa powder, clams, and cashews.

Risk Factors For Nickel Allergy

Your chance of acquiring a nickel allergy may be increased by a number of variables, such as:

  • Having body or ear piercings. Nickel allergies are typically associated with earrings and other body-piercing jewelry because nickel is widely used in jewelry.
  • Using metal. Your likelihood of developing an allergy may be higher than that of someone who doesn't deal with nickel if you have a job that exposes you to the metal on a regular basis.
  • Additionally, those who frequently come into contact with water or sweat while performing "wet work" may be more susceptible to acquiring a nickel allergy. Bartenders, employees of some food-related businesses, and household cleaners may all fall under this category.
  • Metalworkers, tailors, and hair stylists may also be at a higher risk of developing a nickel allergy.
  • Being a woman. Compared to men, women are more prone to be allergic to nickel. This could be a result of the higher piercing rates among women. A recent study suggests that women who are overweight may be significantly more susceptible to nickel allergy.
  • Having a nickel allergy running in one's family. If other members of your family are allergic to nickel, you might have inherited a propensity to be as well.
  • Sensitivity to other metals. People with nickel allergies may also have metal sensitivity.

Diagnosis Of Nickel Allergy

If you have recently been exposed to goods that might contain nickel and the appearance of your skin, your doctor can typically identify a nickel allergy.

However, if the source of your rash is not clear, your doctor might advise a patch test (contact hypersensitivity allergy test). For this test, he or she might suggest that you visit a dermatologist or an allergist who specializes in skin conditions.

Patch Testing

A patch test involves applying extremely minute amounts of possible allergens to your skin and covering them with tiny patches, including nickel. You have two days to live with the patches on your skin until the doctor removes them. When the nickel patch is removed or in the following days, itchy, inflammatory skin beneath it will develop if you are allergic to nickel.

Patch tests are safe even for those with severe allergies because they only utilize small amounts of the allergens.

Treatment Of Nickel Allergy

Avoiding contact with the metal is the first step in the treatment of nickel allergies. Nickel allergy has no treatment options. A rash (contact dermatitis) will appear as soon as you become sensitive to nickel and come into contact with the metal.


To soothe discomfort and enhance the condition of a rash brought on by a nickel allergy reaction, your doctor may advise one of the following drugs:

  • Corticosteroid creams like betamethasone dipropionate (Diprolene) and clobetasol (Clobex, Cormax, etc.). The skin may thin after prolonged use of them.
  • Non-steroidal creams, like tacrolimus (Protopic). The most typical adverse reaction is brief stinging at the application site.
  • Oral Corticosteroids. If the reaction is severe or the rash covers a significant region, an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone, should be used. Weight gain, mood fluctuations, and elevated blood pressure are just a few of the negative effects that these medications might have.
  • For itching relief, take oral antihistamines. However, their efficacy in treating skin itching may be questionable.


A controlled amount of synthetic ultraviolet light is applied to your skin during this procedure. People who haven't improved with topical or oral steroids are typically the only ones who can benefit from it. Several months may pass for a nickel allergic reaction to respond to phototherapy.

Prevention Of Nickel Allergy

The easiest way to avoid getting a nickel allergy is to limit your time spent around nickel-containing products. Avoiding contact with nickel is the best approach to prevent an allergic reaction if you already have a nickel allergy.

However, because nickel is found in so many items, it's not always simple to avoid it. Checking for nickel in metal objects can be done at home with test kits.

You may be able to avoid nickel exposure by following these tips:

  • Wear hypoallergenic accessories.

Avoid wearing nickel-containing jewelry. To prevent adverse reactions, buy jewelry made from non-allergenic materials. Search for jewelry made of surgical-grade stainless steel, titanium, 18-karat yellow gold, nickel-free stainless steel, sterling silver, and surgical-grade stainless steel.

Surgical-grade stainless steel may include some nickel, but it's typically regarded as hypoallergenic for most individuals. Make sure the backings of your earrings are made of hypoallergenic materials as well.

  • Pick your piercing shop wisely.

Make that the studio uses sterile, nickel-free, or surgical-grade stainless steel needles in sealed packets before obtaining a piercing. If the studio employs a piercing gun, be sure that no other customers have been touched by the component that contacts the individual getting pierced. Check to see if the shop only sells hypoallergenic jewelry and if they can show you the jewelry's metal content.

  • Use alternate materials

For typical items containing nickel, look for safer alternatives:

  • Leather, cotton, or plastic watch bands
  • Clothing or zippers made of metal covered with plastic
  • Eyeglasses made of titanium or plastic
  • Construct a barrier
  • Putting a barrier between you and the nickel may be helpful if you have to be exposed to it at work. Wearing gloves may be helpful if you have to touch nickel with your hands.
  • Try using duct tape or a clear barrier like Nickel Guard to cover buttons, snaps, zippers

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