CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
CLICK TO ENLARGE
An allergic reaction is somewhat like a case of mistaken identity within your body's immune system. Normally, your immune system reacts to protect your body against bacteria, viruses or toxic substances.
If you have nickel allergy, your body reacts to nickel and possibly to other metals, such as cobalt and palladium. In other words, it's mistakenly identified nickel as something that could harm you. Once your body has developed a reaction to a particular agent (allergen) — in this case, nickel — your immune system will always be sensitive to it. That means anytime you come into contact with nickel, your immune system will respond and produce an allergic response.
Your immune system's sensitivity to nickel may develop after your first exposure or after repeated or prolonged exposure. The cause of nickel allergy is unknown, but sensitivity to nickel may, in part, be inherited (genetic).
Sources of nickel exposure
Nickel allergy is most commonly associated with earrings and other jewelry for body piercings that contain some nickel. Common sources of nickel exposure include:
- Jewelry for body piercings
- Other jewelry, including rings, bracelets, necklaces and jewelry clasps
- Clothing fasteners, such as zippers, snaps and bra hooks
- Belt buckles
- Eyeglass frames
- Metal tools
- Schram SE, et al. Nickel hypersensitivity: A clinical review and call to action. International Journal of Dermatology. 2010;49:115.
- Usatine RP, et al. The Color Atlas of Family Medicine. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies.; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=8206371. Accessed Dec. 4, 2012.
- Darlenski R, et al. The many faces of nickel allergy. International Journal of Dermatology. 2012;51:523.
- Tips to remember: Allergic skin conditions. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/allergicskinconditions.stm. Accessed Dec. 4, 2012.
- Peiser M, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis: Epidemiology, molecular mechanisms, in vitro methods and regulatory aspects. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 2012;69:763.
- Two cents about nickel. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. http://www.aaaai.org/Aaaai/media/MediaLibrary/PDF%20Documents/Libraries/EL-skin-allergies-nickel-patient.pdf. Accessed Dec. 4, 2012.
- Usatine RP, et al. Diagnosis and management of contact dermatitis. American Family Physician. 2010;82:249.
- Tattoos and body piercings. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_tattoos.html. Accessed Dec. 6, 2012.
- Tammaro A, et al. Topical and systemic therapies for nickel allergy. Dermatitis. 2011;22:251.
- Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Edinburgh, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-7234-3541-9..X0001-6--TOP&isbn=978-0-7234-3541-9&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed Dec. 6, 2012.