There seem to be as many allergies as there are substances in the universe, yet many people are astonished to find that others can be allergic to metals. If you’ve got this sensitivity, you’ll know that touching things like jewelry, coins, or other objects made of metal can cause a skin flare-up called allergic contact dermatitis, which usually takes the form of an itchy rash.
Sometimes, this type of dermatitis can take repeated exposure before you develop an allergic sensitivity. A wristwatch that you wear daily could suddenly cause a reaction from the constant exposure to nickel from its backplate. Typically, once you’ve developed an allergy to a metal, you’ll remain sensitive to it.
Symptoms of contact dermatitis
Since metal allergies usually present as contact dermatitis, your first sign of metal sensitivity will likely be a rash that develops with hours to days of contact with that metal. The rash itself may last as long as a few weeks, and it typically only appears at the point of contact, though occasionally it can show up in other places on your body.
Contact dermatitis symptoms include:
- Itching that ranges from mild to severe
- Bumps or a rash appearing on the skin
- Blisters that may leak fluid
- Changes in skin color, usually red
- Dry skin that could resemble a burn
Metals likely to cause contact dermatitis
The metals most likely to cause a reaction include nickel, cobalt, and oxides of chromium. If you react to any of these, perhaps in the form of jewelry, it’s possible a simple switch to less reactive metals may eliminate your allergic reaction.
Metals such as gold, silver, platinum, stainless steel, and copper are usually biologically inert, but beware of items that may simply be plated over nickel or cobalt bases.
Unusual and unexpected places where metals may lurk
Reactions to jewelry, watches, or metals you regularly touch are often easy to identify. However, there are places where your metal nemesis may be hiding. These include:
The metal components of prosthetic joints are typically made from titanium, so if you suspect you may be allergic to this metal, tell your surgeon prior to joint replacement surgery so testing can confirm your sensitivity.
People who have nickel and cobalt sensitivities could show an allergic response when handling a smartphone containing these high-risk metals.
You may not give the metal fasteners on your clothing much thought, but zippers, buttons, and rivets could all cause contact dermatitis, particularly where these make direct contact with your skin.
Chromates are sometimes a component of makeup, such as eyeliner, and these metal oxides are even found in soap, so check the labels before changing brands if you’re aware that you have sensitivities, and don’t forget them when trying to identify the cause of a reaction.
Another easily overlooked source of suspicion is the metal contained in some eyeglass frames, which may be alloyed with nickel or cobalt.
Perhaps the most surprising hidden source of metal on the list, tattoo ink can have some pigments that contain cobalt or other metals.
If you experience contact dermatitis outbreaks, it may take some detective work on your part to determine the source of your skin allergy. For help establishing the cause of your allergic reaction, contact Dr. Ziegner at the Riviera Allergy Medical Center for allergy skin tests to pinpoint the origin. Call or click today to schedule an appointment.