Allergic reactions can be developed to any organic or inorganic compound. However, allergies to some compounds are more common than the other. It is logical that our immune system has evolved to react stronger to organic materials, as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other biological agents contain these substances. Still, there are many inorganic materials, especially metals that can cause different types of allergic reactions.
How You Develop A Metal Allergy
Metal allergies are most commonly caused by nickel, gold, cobalt, chromium, zinc, and silver. Allergic reactions to nickel, which is widely present in our environment are by far the most common. There are several ways in which metals can get our immune system activated. If metals are ingested, immune cells located in bowel walls and bloodstream can recognize the metal as a foreign body and attack it in order to inactivate it or destroy it. The most common way of developing allergic reactions to metals is through skin contact, and this type of reaction is called contact dermatitis.
As said before, nickel is present in various forms widely in our environment. It is incorporated in jewelry, coins, zippers, frames of eyeglasses, and even in some components of devices we use every day, such as cellphone. Symptoms of contact dermatitis developed as a result of exposure to nickel include: a red rash, itching, blisters, and irritation. These symptoms are most commonly localized to exposed regions, but they can affect the whole body in some severe cases. The treatment is not necessary in mild cases, except for eliminating objects that contain nickel. In severe cases, please refer to your doctor to receive some antihistamines or additional medications depending on the severity of symptoms. Persons diagnosed with nickel allergy should avoid any contact with nickel. Jewelry which does not contain nickel should be used only, especially for piercing purposes.
The mechanism of developing an allergic reaction to gold is the same as for nickel or any other metal. Contact dermatitis is also the most common presentation and it affects the hands, face, and eyelids most frequently. In one study published in the American Journal of Contact Dermatits, conducted in 2001, gold allergy was found in 9.5 percent of participants, which is a higher than expected incidence. The interesting thing is that women accounted for 90.2 percent of positive patients, which means that gold allergy was more common in the female gender. This is explained by the use of gold jewelry which is much more common in women than in men, so the stimulation of the immune system by the allergen of gold is more probable.
Contact dermatitis developed as a result of metal allergy is not a life-threatening condition, but it produces unpleasant symptoms and aesthetic problems. Also, with each next contact with allergen, the symptoms are usually worsening due to increasing level of circulating antibodies and antigen-presenting cells in the skin. Therefore, persons with any form of metal allergy should first perform a patch test to determine which metal is responsible for the allergic reaction. Some metals are easy to avoid, such as gold and silver, but a nickel allergy takes more attention to control, because of the widespread use of this metal. Local antihistamine creams and systemic antihistamines can be used for the management of acute contact dermatitis.
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