Causes of Nickel Allergy

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Common Causes of Nickel Allergy

An allergy to nickel is exacerbated from prolonged exposure to common objects that contain it. Nickel and alloys of nickel can be found in jewelry, eyeglasses, watchbands and even the coins that you handle every day.

While nickel is a completely innocuous substance in most people, medical science is not exactly sure why some of us react so strongly to the point where the body has an allergic reaction. There is evidence, while inconclusive, that a nickel allergy may be genetically transmitted.

Women are more likely than men to develop nickel allergy, but doctors believe this is only because more women than men currently have pierced ears or other body piercings which put jewelry that could contain nickel, or possibly other metals like palladium or cobalt, in close contact with the skin.

While some foods, such as oatmeal, beans, nuts and chocolate, naturally contain nickel, it is not clear that these can cause a nickel allergy reaction. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns about your diet and any allergic reactions.

Avoiding Nickel

If you have a nickel allergy – and once you have a reaction, you will always be sensitive to nickel – the best strategy is to completely avoid it. That is not always possible, as nickel and its alloys sneak into things you would never suspect, like the top button of your jeans, paperclips or tools you handle all day long at work, the keys to your car and even your cell phone.

Once you identify the culprit, for example, the clasp of your necklace or your ear or body piercings, choose a nickel-free alternative like surgical grade stainless steel, titanium, sterling silver, copper or 18-karat yellow gold. Be careful, though, because sometimes objects labeled as hypoallergenic are not.

Also make sure the backings to your earrings or other pierced jewelry are also nickel-free. If you are getting a new piercing, make sure that your piercer is a trained professional that uses nickel-free needles and jewelry – and can prove it. Run fast and far from anyone who wants to use a piercing gun on you as they often contain nickel and sometimes nasty bacteria.

If you have no options for choosing a nickel-free alternative (perhaps the offender is a hammer you use on the job), either wear gloves or cover the exposed metal with duct tape. Some have been able to salvage their favorite jewelry by coating surfaces that touch the skin with clear nail polish.


Symptoms of a nickel allergy can appear from 12 to 48 hours following exposure. You will have a red, itchy rash and sometimes fluid-filled blisters if the reaction is severe at the place where you had contact. But sometimes dermatitis can present at other places on your body. It may stick with you for two to four weeks until it is completely healed.

Treatment Options

You can treat the symptoms of nickel allergy yourself with over-the-counter medications like calamine lotion or corticosteroid creams. Oral antihistamines may help if the itching is severe. Do not use over-the-counter antibiotic creams which may exacerbate your allergic reaction. If your symptoms get worse, or if you develop an infection, contact your doctor. He or she may prescribe stronger corticosteroid creams or even an oral corticosteroid like prednisone.


American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, “Nickel Allergy”, “Nickel Allergy”