Nickel is one of the most commonly used metals in the world, found in everything from currency to house keys. It is also one of the most common allergies with around 10-12% of the world’s population suspected to be affected by this. So what are the signs, and how do you know if this includes you?
Although nickel is found in many everyday items, a reaction can still occur if you have handled nickel before and been fine. A reaction usually appears in the form of a rash wherever the skin has been in contact with nickel, which may take a couple of weeks to subside depending on the severity of the reaction. Common items that can cause a reaction include jewellery, keys, money, watches, belt buckles, clothing fasteners such as zips or buttons, laptops, tablets, phones and even e-cigarettes. Once a reaction has occurred it is likely this will happen again every time the skin comes into contact with the item.
Medical professionals are unsure what it is about nickel that causes this reaction in such a high percentage of people, although some have expressed the opinion that sensitivity to the metal could be genetically inherited, at least in part. Constant exposure to nickel is likely to bring on a reaction, especially if it is close to the skin and you are sweating. This most commonly happens with jewellery but could also happen if you have money or keys in your pocket, or metal parts on your clothes.
A nickel allergy can be simply diagnosed by the doctor by examining the skin, or sending you for a patch test, which involves small amounts of particular allergens being applied to the skin. These areas are then examined for a reaction. There are several creams that can be used to treat a reaction, but the most effective way is to take proper precautions and avoid prolonged contact with items that you know will affect your skin. As nickel is used so prevalently it is pretty much impossible to avoid it altogether but if you are careful you can reduce the risk of a reaction. Handle keys and money as little as possible, taking them out of your pockets and keeping them safely in a bag or purse. Try not to wear jewellery that contains nickel, or ensure it has a very low content, and be careful of the metal parts on your clothes. Different people will have different triggers so it is important to recognise what works for you and what you should avoid.