Nickel allergy

Nickel allergy – most common among women

Nickel allergy a common type of contact dermatitis. Most often the allergy appears after ear piercings or piercings of other body parts - both the piercing instruments, as well as real and fake jewellery contain nickel. People normally develop eczema and rashes after contact with objects at work that contain a lot of nickel. Cashiers, smiths, locksmiths, carpenters or metal workers are professionals that are especially exposed. Severe nickel allergy may lead to sick leave and sometimes lead to a change in profession. In rare cases, people with nickel allergy may even develop hypersensitivity to certain foods containing large amounts of nickel.

Nickel allergy is much less seen in men than in women. This is not because of some genetic difference, but simply due to the fact that women are more prone to come into contact with nickel. Nickel allergy is also found among children. It may be good to know that allergy to nickel is neither contagious, nor hereditary. The best way to avoid nickel allergy is to not get pierced, especially not in your ears. If you have developed this allergy once, the hypersensitivity will stick with you throughout your life.  If the symptoms are treated effectively, however, you will not have to suffer from problematic eczema or rashes.

Nickel allergy symptoms

Contact dermatitis appears after direct or prolonged contact with a substance like nickel, perfume substances, rubber chemicals or preservation agents. Rashes and eczema may appear on the parts of the skin that have been in contact with the allergy provoking substance. The reaction usually comes within 24-48 hours after the contact.

One third of all people allergic to nickel will develop hand eczema, but may also have problems on the skin of their neck, in the armpits or on the face, usually around the eyes. Common symptoms of eczema are red skin that swells, and small itchy pimples or blisters. When the blisters break the skin will turn dry and flaky, and it is also common for the skin to break, hand eczema may be very problematic and can become chronic.

Preventing nickel problems

If you have developed an allergy to nickel you should avoid direct contact with objects that contain nickel. These are usually jewellery, buttons, handles, watches, zippers, coins, studded belts, keys, glasses and tools. Even if you do not have nickel allergy but are allergic to other things and easily get rashes, it is a good thing to avoid skin contact with nickel, since you run a higher risk of developing hypersensitivity to it. Remember that it is not the amount of nickel in the objects that causes you to have an allergic reaction or not, but whether or not it is easily released from the object. In kitchen sinks, taps and cutlery made of stainless steel the substance is so tightly attached to the steel that people with allergies are not affected. So, if you are allergic to nickel, it does not mean that you have to avoid skin contact with all metal objects, only the ones with loosely bound nickel. If you are unsure of whether an object is giving off nickel or not, it is possible for you to test it using a nickel test that can be found in pharmacies.

If your allergy is well established and you are very sensitive to nickel, it may be a good idea to exclude certain foods from your diet for a few months in order to see if that will ease your problems. Spinach, lettuce, nuts, cacao powder, baking powder, oatmeal, buckwheat and leguminous plants are some foods containing a lot of nickel. You could try using kitchen utensils made of materials other than nickel.

How is nickel allergy treated?

If you suffer from eczema on your hands caused by nickel allergy it is important to often use softening lotion and in generous amounts in order to strengthen the natural protection of your skin, especially after getting wet. In pharmacies there are several different over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams available that might help you. The hydrocortisone will counteract the inflammation and ease the itch. If the eczema has not healed after a week of treatment it means that you will need a prescription for stronger medication.  You may need to try different medicines - make sure you find something that works.

Also contact your doctor if:

  • The eczema is spreading rapidly
  • The eczema is around your eyes
  • The eczema is causing severe itch
  • The eczema is infected or collects fluid
  • If your skin breaks and hurts because of the eczema
  • Your child develops eczema and is younger than 2 years old   



 UK/GEN/15/0057b                 Date of preparation: December 2015 

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