Metal Allergies

Do you have a metal allergy? If wearing earrings, bracelets, necklaces, or rings makes you itchy, you just might.

Metal allergies are more frequently seen in women than in men. The most common cause of a metal allergy is nickel. Nickel is pretty pervasive — it is even found in trace amounts in soil, water, and air. It is in some detergents and makeup. Certain foods have a high nickel content, too. Whole wheat, legumes, chocolate, tea, and many canned foods have a high nickel content. Loose change doesn’t have much actual nickel content, but can cause an allergic reaction in a sensitive person. People with a severe nickel allergy should try to avoid foods cooked in stainless steel pots and pans and choose a nickel-free diet.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to nickel are generally limited to the skin near the metal and can include:

  • Localized itching
  • Localized redness
  • Localized swelling

People rarely have a reaction to pure gold (24k gold), platinum, or titanium. Sterling silver is an alloy, so it may cause an allergic reaction in a sensitive person. Gold that isn’t pure (or any alloy) may have nickel in it. If you have a metal allergy, you should be very careful about the jewelry you choose! Pick only pure metals, not alloys. Avoid anything that may contain nickel if you can.

The metals used in dental work are usually safe for everyone. There are less than one hundred cases of an allergic reaction to metal used in dental work on record. The cobalt chrome used in some hip surgeries may not be as safe. A percentage of patients who undergo hip resurfacing surgery develop a metal allergy; doctors suspect that the metal parts rubbing together leave metal particles in the bloodstream that lead to the allergy.