Nickel Allergy

What is a Nickel Allergy?

A nickel allergy is one of the most common types of skin allergies.  Nickel is used is many of the things that we come into contact with every day so if you have a nickel allergy, you will likely know about it and you will probably be forced to avoid contact with this material.

Nickel is found in zippers, frames of eyeglasses, money, jewelry, cell phones, keys, and much more. When it comes into contact with the skin, symptoms may occur within a 12-48 hour period.

What are the Symptoms of Nickel Allergy?

The most common symptoms of a nickel allergy are itching and a rash.  The rash is red and becomes more irritated with scratching.  Dry patches are also common.  When you scratch the affected area, it can become swollen and sometimes blisters form.

If they break, they leave scales and crusts.  Untreated nickel allergies can result in cracked skin that appears darker than your normal skin tone and can become leathery in appearance and feel.  The area may even fill with pus.

Nickel Allergy Causes

Scientists have not yet been able to identify the exact cause of a nickel allergy. As with other allergies, a nickel allergy is a product of an individual’s immune system. Our immune system works to protect us from harmful substances, such as viruses and bacteria. When a person’s body misidentifies a generally harmless substance as harmful, their immune system produces a reaction as a response to the allergen.

Once a person’s immune system has determined a particular substance – in this case, nickel – to be an allergen, that allergy is likely to last for the remainder of a person’s life. Each time that the individual comes into contact with the substance, their immune system will produce an allergic reaction.

Certain elements and risk factors of a nickel allergy have been observed. Scientists believe that there is a hereditary component to the condition – someone with a relative who has a nickel allergy is more likely to develop one, too. Additionally, females and anyone with an allergy toward other substances is more likely to develop a nickel allergy.

How is a Nickel Allergy Treated?

Doctors can often tell if you have a nickel allergy by looking at your skin and asking simple questions. They may send you to a dermatologist for a skin patch tests. Nickel allergies cannot be cured but the symptoms can be treated.

The first thing that is recommended is that you avoid coming into contact with anything that has nickel in it.  If you do come into contact with nickel and have a reaction,  over-the-counter antihistamine pills and hydrocortisone creams can help.  If your symptoms are severe, you may be prescribed a steroid cream.  There are also drugs that can be prescribed that help with your immune system.  Medication to deal with infections will help if your skin becomes cracked, blistered, or filled with pus.

Nickel Allergy Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no absolute method of prevention against a nickel allergy; however, it is possible to reduce one’s likelihood to develop a nickel allergy. Limiting one’s contact with and exposure to nickel is the most effective way to both prevent a nickel allergy. This may prove difficult as nickel is in a surprising number of substances with which many of us interact with on a daily basis – even a number of foods contain nickel. Avoiding jewelry which contains nickel may prove helpful to those with severe allergies who fear that they are susceptible to developing a nickel allergy. Additionally, certain occupations which work heavily with nickel – such factory workers and hairdressers – increase a person’s likelihood of developing a nickel allergy. Avoiding these occupations may decrease an individual’s risk of developing the allergy.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
January 25, 2018