Nickel Allergy - It's Not Just a Rash

You know, I'm pretty lucky. I think it's good, now and then to take stock of what's good in life. One way that I'm lucky is that my biggest ongoing health concern is my nickel allergy, which is totally manageable by choosing to wear nickel-free jewelry.

Every now and then, on my blog or website, I have made mention of nickel allergies so severe that you have to control what you eat, and even what you cook your food in. However, my knowledge of severe nickel allergies has been pretty slim, and since my allergy is not that severe, thankfully, the extreme end of the spectrum is pretty easy to ignore. I think I may be overlooking the importance of the problem, though, and I suspect you may be, too. My assumption has been that since my nickel allergy is not currently that severe, it never will be.

Let's think this through. I know (and you should know) that the more your nickel allergy rash becomes irritated,  the more severe your allergy will become in the long run (7). So how do I know if I'm exposing my myself to nickel, or how does anybody? Well, the common way is to wait until we get a rash, and then figure it out. In fact, by that time, it may have been months or years since the initial exposure which really caused the allergy. Funny, but when that ugly painful rash appears, we start scratching our heads (or whatever) and looking for answers.

Now extrapolate: How can I (or anybody) say that I'm so different from the people with severe nickel allergies? Sure, I avoid jewelry with nickel in it, and that's great. Also, it's fun, because I get to wear shiny things that don't make me want to burst out of my skin. But as we know, there is a lot more in the world that contains nickel than jewelry alone.

The Dark Side of Nickel Allergy, or The Second Circle of Hell

Ok, Nickel Allergy doesn't have a really bright side, but let's just say, it can take you down a lot further than you knew you could go. Wouldn't you love to know what you're missing out on?

When your Nickel Allergy becomes severe, instead of just watching what you wear, you have to watch what you eat. It's not an allergy that just appears on your skin once in a while, but it's inside your body, and it's there all the time. At this stage, it actually has a different name: Systemic Contact Dermatitis, because now it's in your entire system.

We know for a fact, that when you have a nickel allergy, it won't disappear - it's with you for life. There is no vaccine, no cure, no possibility that it will just go away. If you become sensitive enough that you have to control the nickel in your diet, it's not just for a while, it's for the rest of your life.

Is it wise to worry? I do think it's possible to worry too much. Really, if you're not this sensitive, don't bend over backwards to rearrange your life around it. Not everyone  will develop Systemic Contact Dermatitis (5), just because they get a rash from jewelry. But also, have enough courage to see where the road ahead could take you.

If your rash comes and goes soon after you've been wearing jewelry, it's easy enough to suspect Nickel Allergy. It's not so easy to suspect Nickel Allergy if the rash appears in a random spot on your body, or somehow results in you just feeling rotten.

As your rash becomes more severe, this is where you really should know what you're dealing with, and it is also where people become utterly clueless about where to turn. Symptoms can be so non-specific and pervasive as low energy, redness around the eyes, sour stomach, or digestive difficulties. (45)  Other symptoms can include unexplained rashes that can occur anywhere on your body. Rashes near your eyes, or on your hands or feet are common, but are not limited to these areas.

If you already know that you have a nickel allergy, you can at least use that knowledge to ask the right questions. If you have not identified your jewelry rash as a nickel allergy (many haven't), or you have never had an active skin irritation from nickel (this is possible), tracking down the cause is a lot more difficult. You can still get an allergy patch test to track down nickel allergies or other allergies that may be at work.

So how did your rash get this bad? The same way you got the allergy in the first place. It may have come from  wearing, touching, eating, or even breathing in nickel over a span of time. In addition to metal exposure we're aware of, studies say that we ingest 200 to 300 micrograms (1) of nickel every day on a normal basis, without any special controls or awareness.

Nickel, like most natural elements, is in the soil - it is part of the earth. And think back to what you learned 10th grade Biology class - at some level, everything comes from the soil. Nickel can also be introduced to food by the way it is packaged or the way it is cooked.

The bizarre thing about almost all special diets is that food accepted as healthy for the general population is now a hazard for you. It would be wrong to suggest a total nickel allergy diet to someone who does not need one, but I think a little knowledge may help you think through small, harmless changes you could make. It may give you one more reason to cut down on chocolate, or even help you to think more carefully about mysterious symptoms you are already having.

A few foods that are known to be high in nickel (2, 6) are:
Whole wheat, bran, chocolate(!!), tea, raspberries, most nuts, dried fruits, canned food, beer, red wine, shellfish, lettuce, spinach, bran, soy(!!), rye, seeds, baking powder, margarine, onions, broccoli, bean sprouts (and the list goes on) ...

Have your "now-wait-a-minute" alarms started going off yet?  The various food lists for this diet aren't even all the same - they disagree on certain points. In addition, there are variables that no one can quite control, because the nickel content in food varies by the season it grew, the part of the world you live in, and the actual age of the plant at the time it was harvested (3) ... oh, did I mention that tap water also is likely to have some nickel unless you pour out about a quart of water before you use it in the morning?

Dealing with a diet like this doesn't just stay at home with you, either. It travels. It comes on your dates with you, it comes to your kid's birthday parties, and it even comes to the hospital.  I haven't even mentioned cookware yet ...

If you think I'm trying to scare you, kind of, I am. Because, for you, it's not too late. And I think this information will be useful to you for a couple of pretty good reasons.

One is that as you have symptoms, aches and pains throughout your life, your nickel allergy will still be with you. If some of the unexplained things that happen continue to be unexplained, you should keep this in mind, and see if nickel allergy is part of the root.

Another really good reason is that some of you out there are wearing jewelry, belt buckles or watches on an occasional basis that YOU KNOW irritates your skin, yet you continue to do it anyway. You continue to think it doesn't matter, it's not that bad, or that somehow it's your job to tough it out. Have I told you yet, that if you continue to irritate your allergy rash, your allergy will become MORE SEVERE?? (7)

So, gently and sincerely, I say unto you, please don't do that. Your symptoms are not in your mind. Your pain is real and has a real cause. In addition, you can live life free of a nickel allergy rash.

One more reason for me to share this with you now, and not years from now, is that you even have a chance to make small adjustments in your diet or cooking habits now, that may reduce your exposure to nickel in some of the "nonstandard" ways. Small diet choices or a new pan to cook with may give you a nudge in the right direction. Don't make yourself crazy, just choose something small if it makes you feel more in control and it seems easy to adapt to.

So keep calm, and live life with joy. Believe it or not, wearing your own skin can be that easy.
1) Human Exposure to Nickel - Europe PubMed Central
2)The Penn State Nickel Allergy Diet - Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
3) Low Nickel Diet in Dermatology - Indian Journal of Dermatology
4) What Can I Eat? -

*None of the information on this or any of my sites should be construed to be medical advice. If you believe you have a nickel allergy, please consult the advice of a medical professional. 


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