Your favorite ring leaves a rash around your finger. Your earlobes turn red when you wear a pair of earrings.
As many as 10 to 15 percent of Americans suffer from a metal allergy. For these people, exposure to common metals, such as nickel, produces an allergic reaction. Many common items can bring about a metal allergy outbreak — including cellphones, belt buckles, car keys, zippers, and coins
You may notice symptoms such as itchiness, dry patches, and blistery rashes. These are signs that your body’s immune system is overreacting to metal exposure.
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Causes of Metal Allergies
Metal allergies are usually a reaction to nickel, which you come in contact with frequently. Items containing nickel include:
- Clothing fasteners (zippers, snaps, etc.)
- Belt buckles
- Eyeglass frames
- Cell phones and other electronic devices
- Metal tools
- Medical devices
- Some foods
In some cases, allergic reactions are also caused by cobalt and chromium.
What Does a Metal Allergy Look Like?
Metal allergy symptoms may include:
- Redness or other changes in skin color
- Skin rash or bumps
- Patches of dry skin
- Blisters (in severe cases)
In the case of a nickel allergy, symptoms may appear after your first exposure to nickel or after repeated contact with it.
Doctors aren’t sure why some people are prone to metal allergies. Once you’ve developed a reaction to nickel or another metal, your immune system will always be sensitive to it, causing reactions upon exposure.
When Should I See a Doctor About My Metal Allergy?
Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about rashes, blistering, and itchiness. Your doctor can diagnose your metal allergy by conducting allergy tests.
Known metal allergies can be treated at home with simple, over-the-counter products. At-home nickel allergy treatments include:
- Soothing lotions to ease itching
- Regular application of moisturizers to the skin
- Wet compresses to help heal blisters and ease itching
See a doctor if these treatments do not alleviate the symptoms. If your rash is infected, doctors may treat it with antibiotics. Doctors may also prescribe the following medicines to reduce skin irritation:
- Corticosteroid cream
- Nonsteroidal cream
- Oral corticosteroid or antihistamine
To prevent an allergic reaction to metal, avoid contact with metals that irritate your skin. For example, choose nickel-free jewelry, cover electronics with protective cases, and prevent clothing closures like zippers and snaps from touching skin.
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and non-surgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is the most comprehensive dermatologic laser facility in the region. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.