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Nickel Allergy – Contact Allergic Dermatitis

Enlarged image of electroless nickel (EN) plated bumps on a flip chip. Electroless nickels are used as coatings owing to their resilience against corrosion and wear.
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Nickel, a metallic chemical element, is a transition metal and is one of the only four ferromagnetic elements. Its silvery and lustrous metallic property, coupled with its malleability, has seen it used by humans for several thousand years. Nevertheless, it was only officially tagged and classified in 1751 by Swedish chemist Baron Axel Fredrik Cronstedt.

Industrial and Cosmetic us of Nickel

The nickel’s anti-corrosive characteristics and attractive cosmetic finish have made it into a very popular alloy and plating ingredient in both the manufacturing sector and consumer market. Nickels can be found in almost every aspect of our daily life – jewelries, batteries, knives, nickel cast irons, coins, and cupellation processes are just some of the more obvious examples. In addition, nickel is also an important source of nutrition for humans, animals and plant life alike, and is present in almost everything we eat.

Enlarged image of electroless nickel (EN) plated bumps on a flip chip. Electroless nickels are used as coatings owing to their resilience against corrosion and wear.Enlarged image of electroless nickel (EN) plated bumps on a flip chip. Electroless nickels are used as coatings owing to their resilience against corrosion and wear. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

However, nickel releases metal ions which affect a notable segment of the population, causing allergic contact dermatitis, which is a form of nickel allergy. Contact allergic dermatitis is triggered by prolonged exposures to nickel, which results in itchy inflammations. Once the allergy has manifested itself, it will stay with the victims for the rest of their lives.

The increasing number of cheap nickel coated jewelries in recent years has resulted in higher incidences of contact allergic dermatitis being reported, and the transmission vector has somewhat lent a skewed perception that the allergy is more prone to affect women.

The severity of the reaction and exposure period varies between individuals, but as a general rule of thumb, avoiding contact with any substance containing nickels appears to be the most advisable remedy. These few simple tricks should further reduce the chances of recurrences:

  • Wear gloves when dealing with large quantities of coins
  • Only wear hypoallergenic jewelries
  • Take note of any shiny and nice looking metal objects in your possession – chances are, they’re nickel coated
  • Avoid canned foods, chocolates, and very green vegetables.
  • No piercings!

If all else fails, a visit to the local doctor may be something you should consider. The normal treatment would normally include acidic compresses, creams, antibiotics and as a last resort, steroids. While it would still not cure the ailment, it would reduce any inflammation and feeling of discomfort.

Interestingly, the nickel won the prize for Allergy of The Year (2008), an honor awarded annually by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Song of the day: Nickelback – How You Remind Me

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