A nickel allergy occurs when human skin or mucous membranes come into contact with nickel. Women in particular often suffer from this contact allergy, which is usually harmless and heals without complications within a few days. However, affected patients should permanently avoid contact with products containing nickel in order not to cause the contact dermatitis typical of nickel allergy.
What is a nickel allergy?
The very common nickel allergy is an allergy caused by contact of the skin or mucous membranes with nickel or products containing nickel. See definitionexplorer for Hypersplenism Definitions.
For example, nickel can be found in jewellery, glasses, cutlery, detergents, coins or zippers. However, food and beverages such as strawberries, cigarettes or nuts can also contain nickel and cause a nickel allergy.
This manifests itself as an inflammation of the skin, a so-called eczema, which often causes severe itching and a reddened skin rash. The eczema only occurs on the part of the body that has come into contact with nickel, which is typical of a nickel allergy.
One cause of a nickel allergy lies in genetics, because this form of contact allergy is inherited in many cases. So if your own mother already suffers from a nickel allergy, the risk of developing this form of contact allergy in the course of life is significantly increased.
The skin rash that is typical of nickel allergy is caused by a reaction of the immune system when the skin comes into contact with nickel. Very sensitive people react to the smallest amounts of nickel, which can also be found in food, for example.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The reaction to a nickel allergy does not show up immediately upon contact with the material, but with a time delay. The first symptoms only appear about twelve hours to three days after touching the nickel-containing object. The metal is leached out of jewellery, buttons or belts through body sweat and so-called contact eczema forms on the touched areas. It is usually precisely limited to the touch points.
The skin reddens and swells, wheals, pustules and fluid-filled blisters may form, accompanied by severe itching. Scratching makes the skin reaction worse, healing is delayed and infection is possible. Nickel can also be ingested with food. The allergic reaction then shows up in the armpits because nickel is excreted there through sweat.
In addition, old, already healed eczema can flare up again through oral ingestion. If components of dentures contain nickel, changes appear on the oral mucosa. Chronic contact eczema occurs when nickel is touched continuously or frequently. The skin becomes inflamed, thick and calloused. Scales and painful cracks can form. In very rare cases, the skin symptoms spread over the whole body. This is then referred to as generalized contact eczema, which is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and fever.
Diagnosis & History
If a patient shows a nickel allergy, the treating dermatologist will first ask about the history. Usually the doctor can make a suspected diagnosis of a nickel allergy based on the patient’s stories and the characteristic eczema.
In order to secure this diagnosis, it is possible to carry out an allergy test, the so-called epicutaneous test. This detects whether the affected patient has a nickel allergy. A substance containing nickel is applied to the skin under a plaster and the reaction of the skin is observed. If this shows the typical symptoms of a contact allergy, i.e. contact dermatitis, the diagnosis of a nickel allergy is confirmed.
In most cases, a nickel allergy does not pose a major health risk, provided that contact with nickel is consistently and consistently avoided. Only in very rare cases can the nickel allergy develop into chronic eczema, which must be treated with special medication or forms of therapy.
Complications can only be expected if contact with nickel is not permanently avoided, for example if the patient’s dental implants contain nickel. In these very rare cases, the products containing nickel must be removed as quickly as possible in order to rule out serious complications from the nickel allergy.
Without treatment, a nickel allergy can cause permanent skin changes. After the initial formation of nodules and blisters, the skin begins to weep. Redness appears and purulent pustules form. There is increased formation of dandruff, the skin tears and can become inflamed and thickened in places, sometimes horny.
Scratching the skin as a result of the itching that occurs has a negative effect on the local inflammation and leads to further infections. The allergic reaction can spread to other areas of the body. Deeply scratched skin tends to form scar tissue. The susceptibility of the affected skin to infestation with fungi and bacteria increases. In addition, severe itching is a psychological burden for those affected.
Complications are possible if the allergy is caused by a prosthesis that contains nickel and is in the body. A denture can be the trigger for a change in the mucous membrane in the mouth. During treatment with cream, lotion or ointment, there may be a brief deterioration in the appearance of the skin.
Long-term use of prescribed cortisone ointments can lead to side effects in the form of thinning of the skin and hyperpigmentation. Disturbances in the healing process of the skin can occur through the use of unsuitable body care products, which cause burning and tightening of the skin.
When should you go to the doctor?
A nickel allergy is not uncommon, but laypeople like to equate it with an intolerance to the material. This is even more common, many people are sensitive to nickel. In the case of such a reaction, the doctor should be consulted as soon as it first occurs, because it must be clarified whether the skin is only reacting sensitively or whether it is actually a nickel allergy.
In the case of an allergy, it is possible that other allergies are also present. These can be tested immediately so that the person concerned can avoid contact with other possible allergens so as not to have to struggle with symptoms in the first place. On the other hand, those affected must know about the allergy so that they can protect themselves from contact with nickel in the future. If you have a known nickel allergy, you have to pay close attention to inexpensive jewelry in particular.
If you have a known nickel allergy and have had skin or other contact with nickel, it makes sense to see a doctor if the reaction to it is either particularly severe or there is an unusual reaction of the body that the person concerned has not experienced before. It is often the case that the person concerned only notices after a few hours of wearing that a piece of jewelry must contain nickel.
Treatment & Therapy
If you are allergic to nickel, the first step in treatment is to avoid contact with the substance that causes the allergy. Patients should completely avoid products containing nickel and also make sure that they do not consume any nickel in their diet.
However, the effectiveness of a nickel-free diet cannot be proven with certainty. If there is no significant improvement in your condition within a quarter of a year, you can stop the nickel diet.
If a nickel allergy causes contact eczema, the dermatologist usually prescribes an anti-inflammatory ointment or cream for his patient, which also reduces the itching and has a calming effect on the skin. You can also choose from preparations that have an antiallergic effect and support the skin in healing the eczema. It usually only takes a few days for the skin to recover from contact dermatitis caused by a nickel allergy.
Outlook & Forecast
Once a nickel allergy has been diagnosed, this circumstance will remain permanent. A cure is not possible, but the prognosis for an uncomplicated course is good. From the time of sensitization, a symptom-free life is possible if those affected avoid contact with nickel. Complaints and symptoms that have occurred then usually disappear within two to three weeks. This makes it all the more important that a consistent adherence to a low-nickel diet for a period of at least two to three months is also important when it comes to nutrition.
However, if the symptoms of the allergy have persisted over a longer period of time, the affected areas of the skin can be particularly susceptible to bacterial or fungal attack. There is a noticeable feeling of warmth, severe redness, as well as swelling or pain. A medically prescribed drug treatment of the infection is urgently indicated, depending on the pathogen. It is therefore necessary to always inform the attending physician about the presence of the nickel allergy. In addition, nickel allergy sufferers should note that a rejection reaction can occur if a bone fracture has been treated by means of an operative metal restoration.
A nickel allergy can also have an impact at work. Regardless of whether there is frequent contact with water or a comparable strain on the skin’s surface. This can result in the nickel allergy spreading and further contact allergies.
People who have a family member who suffers from a nickel allergy should definitely avoid products containing nickel. In this way you can avoid developing a nickel allergy. Patients with a known nickel allergy should avoid contact with substances containing nickel so that contact eczema, which is typical of a nickel allergy, does not develop.
One of the aims of aftercare is to prevent the disease from reoccurring. This is possible in the case of a nickel allergy, but is not primarily the responsibility of a doctor. Rather, patients must independently avoid objects containing nickel. As a result, the typical symptoms are absent.
As a result, those affected lead a symptom-free life. Such a precautionary measure is sufficient, especially in the case of mild forms. In addition, follow-up care may also require long-term treatment. Patients then often have to take cortisone in tablet form. Doctor and patient agree on a regular follow-up check-up. In addition to a detailed discussion about the symptoms, the body skin is examined for damage.
Because it usually causes inflammation. Damage to the natural skin barrier makes it more susceptible to a reaction. In the case of a serious illness, a low-nickel diet is sometimes recommended. However, this should only be carried out after consultation with the doctor. A diet can reduce complications.
Personal responsibility in the case of an allergy is usually very high. Many unwanted reactions arise in everyday life. The patient should therefore examine his surroundings for substances containing nickel as part of the follow-up care. Protective measures such as gloves should also be available. The attending dermatologist will provide instructions on how to behave on request.
You can do that yourself
For people who are affected by a nickel allergy, there are a number of ways to alleviate the symptoms in everyday life – however, sensitization to the product will last a lifetime.
First of all, of course, any contact with nickel should be avoided. It is important to note the areas in which nickel can be used. The substance may be found in costume jewelry or eyeglass temples. However, nickel can also be found in clothing, for example in bra straps or jeans buttons. What those affected are often unaware of is that nickel can also be present in gold jewelry – albeit in small amounts. Gold jewelry is therefore only a problem for a small percentage of people allergic to nickel.
Those affected should absolutely avoid the consumption of tobacco. Tobacco smoke can significantly aggravate the symptoms of the disease or even cause them to develop in the first place. This rule also applies to passive smoking. People who are allergic to nickel should therefore not visit bars or places where smoking is allowed. It is also helpful to take good care of the skin. Moisturizing creams or oils are recommended here.