What triggers a nickel allergy reaction?

Dr. Audrey G. Kunin, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Nickel sulfate may be a hidden treasure in your most commonly used products, creams and even medications. Instances of cross-reactions to molecularly related products not truly containing nickel may also occur. If a patch test for nickel allergy is positive, don't overlook these potential sources:

  • Coins (The 1- and 2-euro coins have recently made headlines as concern gathers about its potential role in causing nickel allergy.)
  • Green felt dye (such as that used on pool tables)
  • Machine oils used to cut or grind
  • Some eye cosmetics
  • Chromium and cobalt
  • Canned foods such as tuna (the nickel leaches from the can into the food)
  • Broccoli and chocolate, nickel-rich foods
  • Antabuse (disulfuram, a prescription oral medication)
  • Alkaline batteries
  • Cell phones
  • Bra clasps, snaps, zippers and metal buttons
  • Paper clips
  • Eyeglass frames

Because women tend to wear more jewelry, particularly costume jewelry which has a high nickel content, they are more commonly affected. Men rarely present with a nickel allergy unless developed through occupational exposure. A nickel allergy may arise at any age, and as with any form of allergy, the more often the exposure, the higher the risk for developing an allergy. As seen with other medical allergies, once a person is allergic, they are always allergic.

Eczema patients (or those with atopic dermatitis or other forms of chronic open skin rashes) are more prone to developing a nickel allergy as the nickel particles can gain better access to entering the bloodstream. Also, if nickel comes in contact with an open wound, this can act as a source of sensitization. Ear, nose and body piercings can ironically act as a major form of nickel sensitization. Use of stainless steel, medical plastic or medical titanium earrings are vital during the ear-piercing process to reduce this risk.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.