For children who has Nickel allergy food, anything from jeans with metal buttons to handheld electronic devices can give them an itchy red rash. Called nickel allergy contact dermatitis, nickel allergy is estimated to affect 1.1 million children in the United States.
A nickel allergy is not life threatening, but it can be so bothersome as to interfere with a child’s sleep and cause him to miss school. Sometimes an allergic reaction to nickel is mistaken for an infection, especially if it is near open skin, such as in a pierced ear. Allergy has also been linked to severe cases of hand eczema later in adult life.
What does an allergic reaction to nickel look like?
The allergic skin reaction to nickel looks like eczema. Signs and symptoms include a rash that is itchy, red, swollen, scaly, and probably scabbed in appearance. Generally, the rash appears on the area of skin that comes in contact with the metal. If exposure to metal is constant, sometimes a rash may appear on more distant parts of the body. Once children become sensitive to nickel, they can develop worse and worse rashes when they are exposed to nickel again. .
How to help prevent allergic reactions to nickel
While there is no cure for a nickel allergy, here are some ways to help prevent reactions:
Clothes and accessories. Avoid clothing with metal buttons, snaps, rivets, buckles, and zippers. Look for belts, watches, jewelry, and other accessories that have a “nickel-free” label, or buy things that are hypoallergenic or made of surgical-grade stainless steel, gold, silver, or platinum.
Cover or coat surfaces. Sew a piece of fabric over the metal to avoid direct contact with the skin. It can also be helpful to apply two coats of clear nail polish to the metal that touches the skin. This is not an ideal solution, because nail polish can peel and must be touched up, especially after washes.
Electronics devices. Put a nickel-free sleeve / cover on your child’s tablet or phone that covers the metal parts.
Coins and keys. Advise your child not to keep loose change or keys in pockets.
Seating. Avoid sitting on metal or plastic chairs with metal parts if you are wearing shorts.
Ear and brake piercings. Avoid ear piercings, at least until after the child is of an age when they could be put on braces. This helps prevent nickel sensitization, which can be made worse if you wear metal braces. If your child is getting their ears pierced anyway, choose studs that are nickel-free or made of surgical-grade steel, which are less likely to release nickel. It is also a good idea to use plastic studs until the skin of the piercing heals.
Cosmetics. Avoid cosmetics and other beauty products that contain metal. Nickel allergy has been linked to nail polish containing metal mixing balls with nickel in the bottle.
Food and cooking. Particularly if a child has a known allergy to nickel, it may help to avoid foods that contain nickel. This includes chocolates, nuts, soy products, black tea, seeds, and commercial salad dressings. Choose fresh or frozen foods over canned whenever possible. Do not use stainless steel pots and pans to cook acidic foods that contain acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, or lemon.
Tap water. Let the tap water run for a few seconds before washing, drinking, and cooking, to help remove any nickel from the pipes and fixtures.
Tattoo ink. Nickel-allergic teens and young adults should be extra careful when considering tattoos, because some inks contain nickel.
Nickel allergy treatment
In addition to recommending ways to avoid nickel exposure, your pediatrician may recommend short-term treatment with a steroid ointment or other anti-inflammatory medication.