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An allergy cured with gold

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C. A. V. Nogueira, M.D. |
Nickel allergyNickel is a silvery-white metal that is usually mixed with other metals to produce alloys, and nickel allergy is one of the most common causes of contact allergic dermatitis.


For example, nickel-iron, which is used to manufacture stainless steel, is the most common nickel alloy. Other nickel alloys are used to make coins, earrings, watchbands, rings, necklaces, bracelets, zippers, buttons, eyeglass frames, pens, paper clips, keys, and many other metal products.

In people with nickel allergy, dermatitis develops in places where nickel-containing metal touches the skin. The most common sites are the earlobes from earrings, the wrists from a watch strap, and the lower abdomen from a jeans stud. The affected areas become intensely itchy and may become red and blistered (we call that acute dermatitis) or dry, thickened and pigmented (this is chronic dermatitis).

Contact allergic dermatitis to nickel may develop at any age and unfortunately nickel allergy persists for many years, and often it will not be cured until the end of life. It's understandable that nickel allergy is more common in women, because they are more likely to have pierced ears than men.

The degree of allergy varies. Some people develop dermatitis (also called eczema) from even short contact with nickel-containing items, while others break out only after many years of skin contact with nickel. Nickel allergy is diagnosed by the clinical history and by special allergy tests, patch tests. If you are allergic or sensitive to nickel, the best thing for you to do is to discontinue exposure to nickel and nickel-containing items. It seems that this is the closest thing there is to a cure.

So, if you are sensitive to nickel, what can you do? Since nickel is present in numerous metallic items, it may be difficult for you to know which to avoid. An easy way to determine whether or not a metallic item contains nickel is through the use of a dimethylglyoxime spot test, which is a nickel-testing kit that safely tests your jewellery and other suspected metallic items for the presence of nickel. The bad news is that this test is not available in every country but the good news is that something can be done.

When you buy clothes, choose fasteners made of plastic, coated or painted metal, or some other material. A nickel allergy does not mean you can no longer wear jewellery as well. You just have to be much more selective in your choices: be sure they are made of stainless steel (although this contains nickel, it is so tightly bound that it cannot be leached out), solid gold (at least 12 carat), pure sterling silver, or polycarbonate plastic.

However, if you can't live with your nickel jewellery it is easy to apply clear nail polish to earrings; that will prevent the contact with the metal. Some people have tried to apply talcum powder to areas of the body in contact with nickel-containing items but this is of no use.

Some nickel allergy treatments include topical steroids, which must be used as directed by your dermatologist; compresses made of Burow's solution diluted with water, which help dry up blisters; and/or, emollient creams, which help alleviate the dryness and itch of dermatitis when frequently applied. But, a good advice for you would be to avoid items with nickel because you can always find the same piece of your bellowed jewellery made of another material. After all, gold is girl's good friend just like diamonds, isn’t it?

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