Roberta suffered pain in her earlobes for 15 years and couldn't determine what was causing the condition. A blistering rash led to sagging and, over time, splitting in half of both earlobes. Roberta consulted board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Dr. Sandra Lee, who diagnosed Roberta with allergic contact dermatitis caused by an allergy to nickel.
Nickel allergy is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis — an itchy rash that appears when your skin touches a usually harmless substance. This allergy is commonly associated with earrings and other jewelry used for body piercings and can be found in many everyday items, such as coins, necklace clasps, watchbands and eyeglass frames.
Cause of nickel allergy
The cause of nickel allergy is currently unknown, but sensitivity to nickel may, in part, be inherited. The immune system’s sensitivity to nickel may develop after the first exposure or after repeated or prolonged exposure. Once a person has been sensitized to nickel, the immune reaction is generally faster with each successive exposure to the metal.
Signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis usually appears only where the skin comes into contact with nickel, but may appear elsewhere on the body. The reaction usually begins within six to 48 hours after exposure and may persist for as long as two to four weeks.
Common symptoms include:
- Rash or bumps on the skin
- Redness or changes in color
- Dry patches of skin that may resemble a burn
- In severe cases, blisters and draining fluid
Sweating on the point of contact may worsen symptoms. If left untreated, the skin may become dark, leathery and cracked.
While there is no cure for nickel allergy, there are topical creams and simple at-home treatments to treat contact dermatitis. These include: corticosteroid cream, calamine lotion, oral antihistamine for relief of itching and wet compresses.