I discovered I had a nickel allergy after spending months trying to get rid of an itchy skin rash that developed right under my wedding ring. I've learned a lot about how you can recover from an allergy to nickel, and also how eating a low nickel diet may help to reduce your skin rash.
Even though it is challenging to discover that you have a sensitivity to nickel, there is hope! With a little education, you can clear up your rash and avoid future outbreaks without a lot of expense or time involved.
I had no idea that it was possible to actually be allergic to nickel! After 20 years of wearing a wedding ring, I broke out in a severe case of contact dermatitis ... red, itchy, inflamed skin that spread from my finger to the rest of my hand and palm.
I am very blessed to be happily married, however I was not happy to suddenly develop this large, red rash. It first appeared on the skin under my wedding ring, and later spread to the other fingers and hand. It hurt and the skin was wrinkled, and it made me very un-happy to look at!
This went on and on for years, however after diligent efforts to avoid many sources of nickel, I am now able to wear my wedding rings again!
Nickel is a natural substance, found abundantly in the Earth, and also in the ocean floor, and even in meteorites. I didn't think it was especially toxic, but I was wrong. Doctors say 10 to 20% of people can develop an allergic reaction to nickel.
Some people, myself included, can use objects that contain nickel for their whole life, and then one day, they break out with a rash. For me, it happened decades after I first began wearing my wedding ring.
I experimented with taking off my ring, and within a week the rash began to clear up. I tried wearing another type of ring, and the rash came back.
Then I tried another type of ring, thinking perhaps it was the metal that I was reacting to. I tried a white gold ring, and the rash got MUCH worse!
Then I realized that I needed to get more information, so I did some research and learned about nickel allergy. Apparently, nickel is used in many gold rings and gold jewelry, and so many people with allergies to nickel will develop a reaction to wearing gold jewelry.
And I learned that white gold has MUCH more nickel in it, which is why my hand broke out so much worse! :(
According to dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, one in 10 people in the US are allergic to nickel. Once sensitized, most people continue to be sensitive to nickel and will need to avoid it.
Nickel is a white and silver metal that is used in all kinds of ways, usually in combination with other metals, to make coins, jewelry, stainless steel, tools and industrial items. It can also be used in some types of batteries, to create color in ceramics, and to coat other types of metals.
Nickel is released into the air during natural events volcanoes, (it is thought to be more concentrated in the core of the Earth) and is also dispersed into the atmosphere when it is mined, combined with other minerals, or used in manufacturing.
Most nickel in the soil is attached to dust and soil particles and so isn't easily absorbed into your body in that way.
It doesn't seem to accumulate in the environment although it can take a while (days, weeks or even months) to be removed from the air when it is released from a power plant. It can seep into the water as a byproduct of manufacturing.
Like many trace minerals, a small amount of nickel in our diets may be necessary for health, however very excessive amounts of nickel exposure can create allergic or even toxic reactions.
We are exposed to nickel through our air, water, and food, and also through interaction with items that contain nickel. Nickel concentrations are usually lower in the water unless you live near a plant that processes nickel.
The most serious effects that have been found from nickle exposure have been seen in people who work in nickel refineries who are exposed to very high levels of nickel. Research suggests that some types of nickel may be carcinogenic.
Nickel was voted Allergen of the Year in 2008 by the American Contact Dermatitis Association. You'll see on that list many of the other substances I've written about on this website as well!
No wonder so many people get nickel allergy!
The symptoms of an allergy to nickel are similar to contact dermatitis - redness, dry patches, changes in color, wrinkling, itching, rash, and bumps on the skin. The rash can be severe enough to cause blisters and draining. My rash actually hurt to touch.
Sometimes a nickel allergy rash will clear up on its own if you find out the cause and remove it, however please see your doctor with any kind of new skin problem. Please seek medical attention if you experience pain, heat, or pus coming from the rash.
It is likely that when your body is very stressed out, your immune system has more trouble coping with an irritant like nickel. That may be why you can live with something for years, and suddenly it makes you break out!
The first thing you need to do is to reduce your exposure to nickel by eliminating the most obvious sources.
For example, if your earlobes break out after you wear that nice set of earrings, then you will want to remove them ... or find a special jewelry coating that can protect you from nickel exposure.
This is most difficult with important and significant pieces of jewelry ... like your wedding ring! I finally decided that even though I loved my rings, I had to find a new set that did not make my hand break out!
When you have a nickel allergy, reducing your exposure is not as easy as it sounds. Just take a look at some of the places that you will find nickel.
The most important thing to do is to find out exactly what is causing your allergic reaction, and to eliminate your exposure. Usually, once you are sensitized, nickel will always cause a problem for you, so it is important that you discover the cause and remove it from your environment.
For example, if your rash shows up on your belly button, you may be reacting to the metal button on your jeans. Or, if your rash shows up on one side of your face, and then disappears during your 9 day meditation retreat, (!) you may be allergic to your cell phone, which contains nickel.
If you may be new to the concept of a 9 day meditation retreat, this usually involves keeping silence and not talking on the phone! :)
Here are some tips for recovering from a nickel allergy.
Some doctors believe that if your body contains an excessive amount of heavy metals, that this can increase the potential for allergies, sensitivities and allergies to nickel. For this reason, you may want to talk to a naturoprathic doctor or holistic MD about doing a heavy metal detoxification program.
For example, the right combination of chlorella and cilantro can have a powerful effect on removing heavy metals from the body, however you will want to be sure that your elimination systems such as your colon and kidneys are working smoothly so you don't encounter detoxification effects. For this reason many people perform a colon cleanse first before doing any other kind of body cleansing.
If you are highly allergic or have multiple health challenges or a compromized immune system, I recommend you get professional help to do a heavy metal detoxification program.
It is almost impossible to avoid the presence in nickel in foods, however there are some foods that contain more than others, so this may be helpful for you if you are severely allergic to nickel.
Some people have found that reducing the amount of nickel in your diet can help to reduce the severity of the skin rashes.
I do recommend you consult with a nutritionist if possible to make sure you can still eat a healthy and balanced vareity of foods and get enough nutrition even if you are trying a low nickel diet.
Also, there are some cooking tips that will help you to minimize excess nickel in your food.
Here is a partial list of some of the foods that tend to have high nickel levels.
You can find a list of nickel in foods on page 106 on this FDA Food Safety document.
It is getting easier to find nickel free belt buckles, buttons, jewelry and other products. You can find specialty retailers, and there is a huge selection of nickel free products available at Amazon.com which usually has the lowest prices.
These are some helpful sites that provide more detailed insight and information on nickel allergy and nickel dermatitis.