Parents have been itching to ask me if their child’s itchy rash after wearing jeans with a metal button made from nickel might be an allergy to the metal itself.  Let me do more than nickel-and-dime you by providing some important information on this topic.

Nickel is a metal used in clothes, jewelry and even cellphones and tablets.  Believe it or not, about 11 million children in this country have a skin allergy to this metal, either where the skin is directly exposed to nickel or sometimes all over the body.

A nickel allergy usually appears as a rash beginning within 12 to 48 hours after exposure and can last for as long as 2-4 weeks.  The rash represents your body mistaking nickel as something that can harm you and is characterized by itchiness, redness, bumps and blistering of the skin. 

Nickle allergies tends to occur more in people who have piercings or wear jewelry every day, who work with metal regularly, have a family history of nickel allergy or are allergic to other metals like cobalt as well. 

If you think your child might be allergic to nickel, call your health care professional, who can help diagnose it or refer you to a pediatric allergy specialist who can. While treatment can be done using an over-the-counter antihistamine, sometimes these don’t work and a prescription anti-inflammatory ointment or oral medication, such as a steroid, may be needed as well.  

Once you or your child has this allergic reaction, it can occur again.  If this rash does occur, you need to prevent it from happening in the future.  How can you do that?  Well here are some suggestions. 

First, buy your child belts and jewelry that are labeled “nickel-free” or made from surgical-grade stainless steel, or other metals like gold, silver, or platinum.  If your child does want to wear something with nickel, coat the metal parts that touch the skin with a clear nail polish and that will reduce the risk. 

Keeping smart phones or tablets in a protective case will also prevent your child from having direct contact with the metal parts of the phone containing nickel.  Be aware that there are foods that may contain nickel, including chocolate and cocoa powder, some nuts, soy products, and salad dressings.  Food labels can help identify if the metal is in a particular food. 

Finally running tap water for a few seconds will flush out any nickel that leaches from pipes into the water.

Hopefully tips like this have allowed me to provide more than just five cents worth of information when it comes to knowing more about your child possibly having a nickel allergy. 

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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