The nickel it is a hard metal, widely found on earth. Since its discovery in 1751, it has become an indispensable part of industrial production processes. It is cheap and malleable, and it is easy enough to work with.
Unfortunately, it is also widespreadallergy to nickel. A condition so widespread that, in order to stop the condition, in 1994 the European Union established a directive regulating its use.
What is nickel allergy
L'allergy to nickel it is a contact allergy and, unlike immediate hypersensitivity (such as pollen, insect venom and most food allergies), the delayed hypersensitivity reaction occurs some time after exposure. Following contact with the allergen, it can take from 24 to 72 hours before the first symptoms appear, with a delay determined by T lymphocytes.
THE T lymphocytes play an important role in the immune system. We can find them in the lymph nodes and in the inner layers of the skin, with their function which is to protect the body from certain infections. They therefore attach themselves to foreign substances and activate the other cells of the immune system in order to destroy the foreign substances. This starts a process that allows, with precision, to remember which are the unwanted invaders, so as to be able to react faster in case of re-exposure.
In a contact allergy, the cells identify a presumably harmless substance such as nickel as dangerous. If the skin is then re-exposed to the environmental substance, the T cells transform in the upper layers of the skin and cause an inflammatory reaction. The delay also occurs because cells have to travel along this path.
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How widespread is the nickel allergy
The nickel is the most common contact allergen in the world, and there are numerous studies that have determined how many people have developed a sensitivity (allergic predisposition) to nickel based on skin tests.
For example, a German study a few years ago revealed that an average of 8.5% of children from birth to ten years, 12.35% of adolescents between 13 and 17 years and 15.5% of adults have a sensitivity to nickel.
Another study, by way of comparison, showed that sensitization occurred in 25.9% of the population in Italy, in 24% in Spain and in 11.9% in Denmark. While sensitization does not mean that all those who have tested allergic symptoms are positive, on the other it is clear that sensitization is a condition for the manifestation of an allergy.
In other words: the more sensitized people are sensitized in a particular country, the greater the chances of them developing contact eczema. Apparently, women are generally more at risk of developing a nickel allergy than men and this, perhaps, is due to the fact that contact with costume jewelry and piercing promotes nickel awareness.
What are the symptoms of nickel allergy
In most patients, i symptoms they manifest only on areas of the skin that have come into contact with the allergen. Evidently, the common points of contact with nickel are the palms of the hands, fingers, navel, ears and wrists. The typical symptoms of a nickel allergy are intense itching, burning or pain, redness, swelling, papules, blisters at the point of contact and peeling or thickening of the skin in case of chronic contact.
Evidently, given that nickel is practically everywhere, it is easy to trigger allergic reactions: the metal is found in jewelry, wristwatches, batteries, piercing jewelry, euro coins, glasses, joint prostheses, espresso machines, ironing, office supplies, paper, tattoo inks, potting soil, door handles, dental appliances, cigarette smoke, musical instruments, cutlery, umbrellas, leather goods, hypodermic needles, hairpins, curlers, cooking pots, telephones mobile phones and much more.
Precisely for this reason, the EU directive on nickel establishes that products containing nickel intended for direct and prolonged contact with the skin cannot release more than 0.5 µg Ni / cm2 / week. For post assemblies inserted into piercings, the nickel release rate is limited to no more than 0.2 µg / cm² / week. The release of nickel from toys is also limited by the EU REACH regulation to 0.5 μg / cm² / week.
How to treat nickel allergy
The most effective method for relieve symptoms is to avoid the substance that causes the allergy. The people allergic to nickel they must therefore stay away from everyday objects that contain nickel and avoid prolonged contact with the skin. If contact cannot be completely avoided, safety measures such as gloves or protective clothing can help.
If the eczema persists despite the rigorous prevention of allergens, cortisone creams can be used to relieve symptoms.
In rare cases, the nickel content in food can aggravate eczema in patients with a severe nickel allergy. But before inducing such patients on a low-nickel diet condition, a doctor should perform a diagnostic test, by mouth.
Thresholds and provocative foods vary from individual to individual and patients should therefore consult with a nutrition specialist to determine which foods are safe and which should be avoided. Research is currently underway to study immunotherapy options for nickel allergy.