Many of us with pierced ears have experienced redness, irritation and tenderness after wearing inexpensive earrings. Nickel is a common component in jewelry and is likely responsible for the allergic reaction experienced. Nickel is the most common skin allergen that causes allergic contact dermatitis (ACD).
Historically, women have had a greater incidence of nickel allergies than men due to wearing more jewelry. Approximately 14 to 20 percent of women are allergic to nickel, though one study showed that over 30 percent of women under the age of 18 patch tested positive for nickel sensitivity. In recent years, more frequent ear piercing by men and body piercing by both men and women are thought to contribute to an increase in the incidence of nickel allergies due to more exposure in multiple body sites.
Unfortunately, once a person develops a nickel allergy and is sensitized, then a reaction can occur more easily and possibly develop during other unanticipated times.
Nickel exists in a variety of surprising sources, such as belt buckles, coins, paper clips and even door knobs, but usually contact can be avoided even if one is forced to wear gloves. Health problems, however, have potential to arise because in medical applications, nickel can be present in orthopedic joint replacements, dental appliances such as braces or crowns, prosthetic heart valves and pacemakers. I read an article where a little boy fell asleep with his hand on a bed frame that had nickel in it and woke up in the morning with a painful rash on his palm.
If you know you already have a nickel allergy or sensitivity, take precautions to reduce your exposure:
1. If having ear or body piercings performed, make sure nickel-free stainless steel is used or 18 karat gold (14 karat can still have nickel in it) and observe the areas closely for infection.
2. If you already know you have a nickel allergy, wear only jewelry that is nickel free. Simply whispers at www.simplywhispers.com are a source of nickel-free jewelry.
3. If you find that you are having more frequent reactions, you can buy an AllerTest Ni Nickel Detection Kit from either at Amazon or dermadoctor.com to test suspect metal in the items you come in contact with. You can also try to coat the nickel object with clear nail polish or, the mother in the above article backed her son’s buttons and buckles with duct tape to avoid skin contact.
Nickel allergies will not reverse themselves but hopefully with care, you can avoid unnecessary exposure and prevent frequent outbreaks.