Some people are susceptible to an allergic reaction to nickel after spending too long chatting away on their cell phone, researchers explained at the Annual Scientific Meeting ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology). Tattoos, body piercings and cosmetics can also trigger unpleasant reactions.

Luz Fonacier, MD, an allergist and ACAAI Fellow, said:

    “Increased use of cell phones with unlimited usage plans has led to more prolonged exposure to the nickel in phones. Patients come in with dry, itchy patches on their cheeks, jaw lines and ears and have no idea what is causing their allergic reaction.”

The presenters explained that up to 17% of females and 3% of males are allergic to nickel, which is apparently a common contact allergen, causing allergic contact dermatitis. The patient typically develops a rash after touching the metal. Susceptible people may develop a rash after putting on jewelry, such as earrings, and those used for body piercings. Nickel present in coins, watchbands, keys, paper clips, and even eyeglass frames can trigger allergies in some people. Nickel allergy, which may affect people of any age, usually starts after prolonged or repeated exposure to substances which have nickel in them. In the vast majority of cases, when somebody develops a nickel allergy they will always be sensitive.

In most cases, contact with such things as coins, keys or paper clips are not prolonged, making it less likely that sensitivity will develop. However, nickel can pass from the hands to the face and eye area if the individual rubs his/her eyes, for example.

Dr. Fonacier said:

    “Allergists are seeing increasing numbers of nickel allergy among patients. Some researchers suggest that there should be more nickel regulation in the U.S. like there is in some European countries.”

Nickel allergy signs and symptoms usually appear between 12 to 48 hours after exposure. They may persist for a number of weeks, and may include:

  • Itching, which is sometimes severe
  • Skin redness or changes in the color of the skin
  • Swelling
  • Eczema
  • Skin lesions
  • Blisters and sometimes oozing
  • Sometimes there may be scarring
  • Some parts of the skin may have dry patches that look like a burn

If a cell phone is causing an allergic reaction, experts advise using either a plastic film cover or a wireless device. Alternatively, you could purchase a telephone that has no metal on the surface. The only long-term solution, says Dr. Fonacier, is to find out what your allergen is, and to avoid it.

According to Dr. Fonacier, 24% of adults aged 18-50 have tattoos while 14% have body piercings. Tattoo allergies, which are much more common than people think, generally come from the pigment used for the coloring.

Dr. Fonacier said:

    “The issue with body piercing goes back to the increasing prevalence of nickel allergies. Some researchers suggest we delay introduction of ear piercing until children are older than 10 years.”

Dr. Fonacier said:

    “It’s well known that our everyday cosmetic products contain many substances that cause allergies. Although the cosmetic industry is one of the largest in the world, it is not highly regulated in the U.S. The average person uses 12 personal products a day. Those 12 products may contain up to 168 chemicals, many of which can be an irritant or a substance that causes an allergic reaction.”

Patch tests reveal that over one fifth of all adults react to substances in cosmetics. The worst culprits are fragrances and preservatives which many cosmetics contain.

If you wonder whether you may be having an allergic reaction to nickel, cosmetics or tattoos you should see a qualified allergist and get tested. This would be a specialized doctor.

Source: ACAAI

Written by Christian Nordqvist