- Dr.ssa Marina Putzolu
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Nickel is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment, not only in everyday objects but also in small quantities in many foods, including some grains, fruits and vegetables.
Nickel allergy is characterized by an immune response directed towards the metal, when the body comes into contact, as our body could recognize it as a potentially dangerous agent, thus triggering an allergic reaction.
It often manifests as an itchy rash. It can also cause other changes in the skin, such as redness and blistering.
Once it has developed, it is unlikely to disappear. The only way to treat it is to avoid, or at least reduce, contact with all objects and foods containing nickel.
What are the symptoms of a nickel allergy?
People with nickel allergy usually start to develop a skin reaction as their main symptom 12 to 48 hours after coming into contact with a nickel-containing object. Symptoms include:
The allergic reaction affects only the part of the skin that comes into contact with the nickel. Even the ingestion of foods containing small amounts of nickel can trigger an immune response that in any case causes signs in the skin.
The rash usually lasts two to four weeks after exposure.
What causes an allergic reaction to nickel?
People with allergies have an immune system that mistakes a typically harmless substance for a potentially harmful one, thus starting to produce chemicals to ward it off.
The exact cause of nickel allergy is not known. However, the researchers believe that nickel sensitivity may be genetic.
How is a nickel allergy diagnosed?
The doctor or dermatologist can hypothesize a nickel allergy based primarily on the signs on the skin and on what the patient reports.
In case of suspicion, a patch test is performed, i.e. a small amount of nickel is applied to a patch which in turn is put in contact with the skin.
Patch tests are generally very safe and shouldn't cause a major allergic reaction, so it's not dangerous.
48 hours after the patch test, the presence or absence of the characteristic signs of an allergic reaction is checked. If the skin looks irritated, the allergy could be diagnosed.
How is a nickel allergy treated?
There is no cure for a nickel allergy. As with other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen.
Foods that contain nickel
Nickel is present, as we have already anticipated, also in a large number of foods, including:
- nuts and seeds
- soya milk
- chocolate and cocoa powder
- some canned and processed foods, including meat and fish
- some cereals, including: oats, buckwheat, wheat germ, wholemeal pasta
- some vegetables including: asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomato
- some legumes, including: dried chickpeas, lentils, peas
- soy products, such as tofu
- some fruits, including: pineapple and pears
- all canned fruit
Avoiding all foods with nickel is very difficult to obtain a balanced diet, it is therefore good to start by refraining from using kitchen equipment that contains it, avoid wearing jewelry containing nickel and clothing with zippers and buttons that are coated with it and then eventually proceed with a nickel-free diet. Finally, also pay attention to drugs and supplements that may contain it among their excipients!
- Lidén C. (2018) Metal Allergy: Nickel. In: Chen J., Thyssen J. (ed.) Metal Allergy. Springer, Cham.
- Sharma AD. Low nickel diet in dermatology. Indian J Dermatol 2013