An allergy is a disease in which the immune system overreacts to an external agent called an allergen, which is not harmful to other people, for example, pollen, bee venom or pet hair. The immune system produces substances called antibodies. Some of these antibodies protect against unwanted intruders that can cause infection or disease.1

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In an allergy, the immune system produces antibodies (IgE) that recognize a particular allergen as a damaging agent, even if it does not. The immune system then forms antibodies that are always on the lookout for these allergens. In the future, when exposed to these allergens again, the antibodies can release many of the immune system's chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergic symptoms. Not all individuals are susceptible to every allergen and not all individuals are allergic in nature.1

A nickel allergy can easily be diagnosed by the dermatologist with the help of a suitable allergy test (so-called epicutaneous or patch test), with a patch with nickel sulfate is glued to the skin. If a reaction (skin redness/blisters) appears within 48 hours, you have a nickel allergy.3

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How Do You Test For The Nickel At Home?

Confirmation of nickel allergy can only be done after consulting a dermatologist. However, you can suspect a nickel allergy if you observe the following:

  • The appearance of skin bumps or red rash
  • Severe itching
  • Skin becomes red or changes in the color of your skin
  • Burning like dry skin patches

In severe instances, blisters may appear with liquid draining from them

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No method to cure the nickel allergy is yet known. The only solution is to avoid contact with objects containing nickel and avoid foods with nickel as contaminants.

However, if allergic symptoms persist, anti-allergic drugs and application of moist cold patches over the affected area may have a soothing effect. Even homeopathic medicines can be helpful sometimes.

The scientists were surprised that nickel allergies are rare in the nickel processing industry. Moreover, children who wore nickel-containing brace are statistically much less likely to have a nickel allergy. It is therefore believed that the repeated intake of minute amounts of nickel over time may lead to a point of tolerance of your immune system to this metal.3

Is Nickel Allergy Dangerous?

Nickel allergy is not life-threatening or reduces the life expectancy when happens due to nickel exposure through diet or skin contact. It is, of course, a painful and irritating problem and in severe cases can cause considerable discomfort. However, inhalation of nickel compounds through the air is more dangerous and may be a cause of lung cancer.4

Although nickel is considered a trace element, it usually occurs in higher amounts in the environment, so the demand is easily exceeded. Many people are sensitive to nickel-containing materials (jewelry, belt buckles, etc.) and develop a skin rash. Some people also respond to the nickel content in food with allergic symptoms.2

How Much Nickel Is Too Much?

Since it has been shown that even nickel-sensitive people usually react with symptoms above a certain amount of nickel (up to anything less than 500 micrograms of nickel per day), it is advisable to limit consumption of food with nickel content less than 50 micrograms per 100 grams food. However, since everyone has a different nickel tolerance limit, those affected first have to test where this personal tolerance limit lies.2

Conclusion

An allergy is a disease in which the immune system overreacts to an external agent called an allergen, which is not harmful to other non-allergic people. Although nickel is considered a trace element, it usually occurs in higher amounts in the environment and causes nickel allergy to susceptible individuals. It is advisable to limit nickel intake as far as possible and keep it below 500 micrograms per day. You can suspect nickel allergy if you develop skin rashes, redness, or blisters within 48-72 hours of direct skin contact with nickel-containing objects or ingestion of nickel-containing food. Nickel allergy is not dangerous or life-threatening but causes a lot of pain and discomfort in severe cases. Inhalation of nickel compounds is more dangerous and may cause cancer.

References:  

  1. Sokołowska M, Głobińska A, Akdis CA. Allergy and Inflammation. Inflammation: From Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms to the Clinic. 2017:995-1030.
  2. Ahlström MG, Thyssen JP, Wennervaldt M, Menné T, Johansen JD. Nickel allergy and allergic contact dermatitis: a clinical review of immunology, epidemiology, exposure and treatment. Contact dermatitis. 2019.
  3. Goldenberg A, Vassantachart J, Lin EJ, Lampel HP, Jacob SE. Nickel allergy in adults in the US: 1962 to 2015. Dermatitis. 2015;26(5):216-223.
  4. Ahlström M, Thyssen J, Menné T, et al. Short contact with nickel causes allergic contact dermatitis: an experimental study. British Journal of Dermatology. 2018;179(5):1127-1134.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: August 17, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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