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What is a Metal Allergy?

By Katharine Swan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A metal allergy is an allergic reaction to metal, usually referenced in the form of jewelry. Although different types of metal can cause allergies, most people who experience allergies react to nickel. These allergies are more common in women, with an estimated 12% being allergic to nickel, compared with only 6% of men.

An allergic reaction to nickel can be a highly irritating and even painful experience. Typically, the skin breaks out in a rash, known as eczema, where it has come into contact with nickel. The affected skin turns red, becomes itchy, and usually breaks out into painful fluid-filled blisters. This type of eczema is known as pompholyx.

In the case of pierced ears, symptoms of a nickel allergy usually include the earlobe swelling around the piercing, turning red, and itching. The hole usually also weeps a clear, yellowish fluid, a sign of infection. Although piercings can sometimes become infected due to other causes, persistent symptoms and infections that seem to occur after wearing certain earrings may indicate an allergic reaction.

The reason so many people are susceptible to nickel allergies is because nickel tends to dissolve in moisture, forming salts. For instance, when a person bathes, washes her hands, or sweats while wearing jewelry that contains nickel, the salts form and the skin becomes irritated. Nickel is a strong irritant, and repeated or continued contact with it can weaken the body’s natural resistance.

For people with a metal allergy, it is possible to still wear jewelry, but a little extra care must be given. Inexpensive jewelry almost always contains nickel, and must be avoided. Even jewelry that is marketed as gold or silver may contain nickel, as this metal is often added to those metals to harden them. Even seemingly harmless items, such as the metal buttons on jeans, a buckle on a watch, and even a metal-coated keypad on a cell phone, can irritate the skin wherever they come into contact with it.

There is no allergy medication that can cure a metal allergy, but precautions can be taken to minimize or prevent the discomfort. Any time the wearer notices a rash developing, the cause must be removed as soon as possible. Topical steroids can be an effective allergy treatment, but must be prescribed by a medical professional. Emollient creams offer another form of treatment, but all they can do is to relieve the itching of the rash, not prevent it. Plastic covers can be purchased for inexpensive earring studs, but the common approach of painting earring studs or necklace chains with clear nail polish is not advised, as sweat and moisture will quickly dissolve it.

Living with this type of allergy can be difficult at times, because it requires the person to anticipate whenever metal might come into contact with her skin long enough to cause an allergic reaction. With a little foresight and planning, however, it is possible for someone with a metal allergy to avoid discomfort and still lead a normal life.

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Discussion Comments
By anon994517 — On Feb 15, 2016

This happens to me from the button on my jeans,i need to put good sticking tape over it. I had eczema as a child and working with metals and cutting fluids in the machinist field really gets my fingers bubbling bad in summer, and cracking and bleeding in winter. It's no fun!

By anon993155 — On Oct 26, 2015

I had ankle surgery eight months ago, due to a dislocated foot and broken bones. I had 10 screws and a metal plate inserted during my surgery. My problem now is my skin around the outside ankle bone and plated is red, especially all around my ankle bone. That area stays warm all the time and sometimes I have little blisters on my skin. I haven't been back to the doctor yet, but I feel like I have allergies to to the metal. Anyone else have something like this?

By anon992108 — On Aug 14, 2015

I'm about to find out if I'm allergic to metals. I go to the doctor in a month's time. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with Eczema/Contact dermatitis.

I have had blisters pop up on my hands and if not popped they will scale over and form skin peeling and toughness of my skin thickens more than ever. Some days I feel like I'm using my hands as sandpaper. They're not itchy and there's no pain until the blister forms, and the redness and blisters start hurting then and it hurts like the dickens. Also, I feel electricity if I touch certain things without my gloves on and sometimes with my thin cotton gloves on.

I also have had these bumps form in my ear canal and they get really big and pop on their own and just drains liquid out of my ear. I press all of the liquid out with gloves on and it still fills back up and I pop it then again until the liquid is gone. It will keep forming if I use my cell phone. I stopped using my cell for a week and it healed all up.

I also noticed that when I have my metal headband on, I get these bumps on my head and never put two and two together until I read this blog. I will stop wearing my metal head bands now and see if the bumps on my head disappear now. Too many things are happening and never knew what it could be until I read all of your posts about Metal Allergy. I believe also I have allergies from a chemical standpoint too.

Question (If anyone can help): If you are allergic to just about everything, how can you pinpoint what the problem is and what allergy is responsible for your illness? Also, How do you live when everything is an allergy? Thank you all for the help! Zina

By anon939457 — On Mar 13, 2014

I've just learned, after an entire year of pain following a hip replacement, that I'm allergic to the nickel and cobalt in the implant. Now I have to have another surgery to replace the implant. My new doctor said that all this could have been prevented if I had had pre-op tests for metal allergies. Anybody facing hip surgery should insist on being tested. It'll save you a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering and grief.

By anon933911 — On Feb 18, 2014

Some of these you in these requests can probably be helped by either a kelation therapy or a metal detox. Look these up and learn what foods? herbs that remove certain types of metals from your body, but be careful on how long you do this and get tested at a lab or doc for the correct amounts. We need some metal, but allergies can come from a build up of chemicals in our bodies. Last time I checked, metals are chemical elements. So Praying that God/ Jesus will lead you where to look. My heart goes out to all of you, especially those who have stents and pacemakers.

By anon925864 — On Jan 14, 2014

I'm allergic to all kinds of metal. Stainless steel, iron, nickel, silver, you name it. I have to be very careful in this world if i don't want a rash, swelling, or even bleeding!

By anon360107 — On Dec 23, 2013

Not too long ago, maybe three years ago, I was told that I was allergic to metal and it sometimes breaks out my neck but mostly it breaks out my stomach. There is a really bad rash on my stomach and I just want to know how to change my skin color back the way it should be. How can I get rid of the rash?

By anon353867 — On Nov 03, 2013

All people have to do to wear stainless steel and titanium is to sew patches on the underside of the metal buttons and you're fixed.

By anon344264 — On Aug 07, 2013

One of home remedies for allergies is try applying coconut oil on the affected area for the period the allergy is there. Gradually it will start disappearing.

By anon331515 — On Apr 23, 2013

I am very worried that if (God forbid) I have an accident, and I'm taken to the hospital that metal may be put in my body without me knowing.

I can't wear a bracelet (due to metal) to let the doctors know. I need to find out what metal it is I'm allergic to. Please can anyone help me?

By anon324017 — On Mar 07, 2013

I am allergic to nickel and about a year ago I developed an itchy rash in the center of my back. After spending too much money on a dermatolgist, I guessed that it was the snaps on my bra. I bought new bras with plastic snaps to the front. Well now I realize the imprinted tag directly on the fabric also causes a rash. I have to cut off blouse tags due to the same reaction. I believe these tags use ink with nickel. I've also noticed that T-shirts that have raised ink designs cause itching. Hope this helps others.

By anon290006 — On Sep 06, 2012

For all of you orthodontic patients: they make nickel free wires and brace products. Ask for it.

By anon287303 — On Aug 24, 2012

Anybody with allergies to metal: if you want to wear earrings/rings/jewelry, get titanium! I am allergic to every kind of metal but that (with the exception of one type that is tens of thousands of dollars and is used in space-ship creation. Obviously I haven't tried that). Gold allergy? Titanium. Silver allergy? Titanium.

By anon286908 — On Aug 22, 2012

To those people whose doctors are dismissing their concern, my mom had bunion surgery, and had a known allergy to nickel. She had severe pain, and began to have systemic allergic reactions. She even went to the Mayo clinic, and no connection was made. She got the nickel pin removed and bam! The pain went away, and within two weeks, her symptoms were completely gone. This was after a year of constant emergency room trips and severe issues.

Get the damn metal removed if you're allergic. It's a major contraindication, and don't let someone tell you differently, no matter how smart they think they are.

By anon267607 — On May 10, 2012

My mother just had a pacemaker implanted and now is developing a water blister next to the site of infection. The doctor dismissed it. When I googled this I came across this site but now I don't see any similar stories. Any leads?

By anon236686 — On Dec 25, 2011

I have been allergic to metal since young. When I was young I did the nail polish on the jewelry and after a while I would break out. As I got older I learned to avoid cosmetic jewelry all together. I use plastic frames for glasses, when it comes to jewelry especially earrings use 14k 18k gold(no bump nor itching on your earhole). I am not sure on silver. I've always been scared even though it looks so pretty.

I try not to wear belts but if the outfit persists then I make sure I tuck my shirt in, make sure the metal does not touch your skin. Make sure your doctors know about this allergy. They are starting to make metal implants out of steel due to this, so please again let your doctor know about your condition. Hope this helps.

By anon232112 — On Nov 29, 2011

my jean buttons break out my skin on my stomach horribly. My doctor prescribed 2.5 cortisone lotion and it works really well. I also can't wear earrings. If I do they swell, itch and fluid comes out of the hole.

By anon229096 — On Nov 11, 2011

I don't mean to be rude, but to the people who are coating earrings with clear nail polish- you are crazy! I have multiple piercings in my ears, and for some reason I am only really allergic in my lobe piercings, therefore I rarely wear earrings, which looks weird because you can clearly see the holes.

I recently found an awesome solution via amazon: nylon posts! Just search nylon earrings in amazon, and voila! yes they are cheap, but I promise you that they are amazing!

By anon185620 — On Jun 12, 2011

I am 30 and have always had this allergy. I learned early on to coat everything with clear nail polish. On belts and certain buttons on jeans this doesn't do any good so I just make it a point to always wear a cami and tuck it in under my clothes.

If i do have contact with metal for too long and have a reaction, coating it with a generous amout of pure rubbing alcohol stops the reaction at whatever stage it is in and it will start healing at that point. If I don't do this and just wash the area it continues to react as though it is still in contact with the metal.

I am lucky in the fact that I only seem to have a very, very mild reaction on my fingers so I am able to wear a ring and my tongue piercing doesn't react at all ( after the initial piercing, very mild initial reaction).

With earrings, I can only wear hoops and fish hooks. If I plan to wear them all day or post earrings for about three hours before I react, even if I coat them. I once made the mistake of using an aluminum water bottle for a few days. Big mistake. My eyes were red, itchy, and puffy for days. All I can say is avoid, coat, and if you must, limit contact and treat with alcohol! Good luck!

By anon151866 — On Feb 11, 2011

I had bunion surgery which I was unaware that they had put pins in. It has been 8 years and the pain in my feet is unbearable. I am allergic to metal and I did tell the doctor. Could this pain be from the pins?

By anon142459 — On Jan 13, 2011

I've got like a sort of rash in the corner of my mouth and i have a brace and my dentist asked if i allergic to nickel. i wasn't aware if i was and I've read the article above and the sort of rash is dry and i don't know if there's anything i could put on it, like some sort of cream. help.

By anon137725 — On Dec 28, 2010

I was also using a kettle bell two times a week and my hands blistered in 10 minutes. Now I wear thick cotton gloves which also makes the workout a little harder.

By John Rod Tuazon Labalan — On Dec 26, 2010

I have a metal allergy and I'm wondering how long does it take to heal? Its been a week now but still i have blisters on my wrist because of my chrome watch. Thanks.

By anon131660 — On Dec 03, 2010

I think I've got a skin rash because of the KettleBell I'm using. The handle is metal and since I sweat while working out it makes sense to me that I could touch other parts of my body and break out in a rash. Any thoughts?

By anon109453 — On Sep 07, 2010

I've just found out about my nickel allergy and was wondering if titanium tooth implants contain nickel. thank you.

By anon104100 — On Aug 15, 2010

This is directed at anon65452. Here is a solution for belts and watch bands: Make your own. Assuming you don't have a titanium or nylon allergy, I found a titanium belt buckle for around $25 on Ebay and Paracord for about $15. Instructions are online, too.

I made the belt in about four hours and assuming you can tie a knot, you can make one as well.

I haven't made the watch band yet but it is my next project.

That should take care of any problems you might have. Hope this helps!!

By anon94211 — On Jul 07, 2010

I have just been diagnosed with a metal allergy. It took 13 months for a prognosis. I had a metal hip replacement in 2006 and developed an allergy to the Cobalt in the metal prosthesis. I suffered considerable pain around my hip and my whole leg, from thigh to toes, was swollen.

I have undergone surgery to remove the metal 'hip' and replace it with ceramic, but my leg is still swollen and I have a rash on my swollen foot and ankle which drives me mad with the irritation.

I'm hoping that now the metal has been removed my problems will improve. I only wish I had been asked if I suffered from a metal allergy, and perhaps tested before my initial operation.

By anon90844 — On Jun 18, 2010

There is a technique for treating metal allergies, called either NAET or AAT (Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique or Advanced Allergy Therapeutics, two similar techniques). I haven't used it for metal allergies, but it cleared up my dairy allergies of 17 years and can be used for metal allergies (including allergies to iron, as one poster mentioned), and I was just thinking of being treated for my own metal allergies! Good luck, everyone.

By anon83285 — On May 10, 2010

Clear nail varnish is the answer for external metal; it is not permanent and can be removed from any jewelry or metal surface with some acetate.

I have lived for 30 years with this allergy and it's the best way to go, bar none. Don't take any chances, just use varnish. For internal implants or stents, you are fine with anything except for an IUD which does contain cooper or nickel, or a pacemaker which does also contain titanium and there is a chance you can be allergic to this. Otherwise the metal will be surgical steel which is fine.

By anon72980 — On Mar 25, 2010

I am glad this article was posted. After 40 years, I have found that I have a reaction to all metals. My glasses have plastic frames. Those who use metal frames can get a shrink wrap for them so they don't come in contact with the sides of your head.

For my belts, I switched to using military nylon styles with plastic buckles. It has limited options, but it does the job.

For my watches, I've switched to using the wider nylon velcro straps where the watch is fastened on the outside of the band.

My ring is a black high tech ceramic that is very tough.

Just a few thoughts on what I've done to deal with this. Hang in there all. I wish all of you the best of luck. My thanks, Glenn

By anon65907 — On Feb 16, 2010

I've had a metal allergy for at least seventeen years (which was when my mom had my ears pierced). Since then I've learned to cope and limit my allergies.

I find though that I react to a lot more than nickel. I wash my hands a lot, avoid all jewelry, try to watch my intake of metals through foods, and avoid multi-vitamins at all costs (plus the bonus fact that you urinate out most of the vitamins in them anyway). I've noticed I react more when I consume more metal.

This winter I also learned to avoid certain cold lozenges. I ate one before reading the box, only to find out it had a lot of zinc and iron in it. Later that night I went to bed in exhaustion, having had a pretty bad reaction to the tag on a corset I'd worn only a few hours (I also react to a lot of plastics, and thus, some man-made fibers). My whole left side was red, itchy, bumpy, and in pain.

Be warned, though: your body needs metal. I've experienced iron deficiency anemia many times (the worst of it because of another unrelated health issue) and it's not fun being that tired all the time. I'm not familiar yet on other metal deficiencies - iron's listed the most on nutritional information charts on the backs of packaging so it's the easiest to keep track of. I definitely have some more learning to do.

Being allergic to metal stinks, other than the fact that I can spot fake jewelry with relative ease.

By anon65452 — On Feb 13, 2010

I have metal allergy to nickel, from my belt usually. What I can do to prevent this, (even my brother has the allergy from his watch) is that if we had to wear it, we would use clear nail polish (the top coat ones) and coat the metal with it, making a barrier.

It doesn't last forever as it rubs off, but you won't run out of nail polish for a while. It works great and I haven't had rashes from the metal since then. You can use it for glasses too. If it starts getting itchy, you know you should apply it again.

By anon61608 — On Jan 21, 2010

My son has recently been diagnosed with an allergy to Potassium Dichromate or a chrome allergy. He has always had a problem with his hands and fingers and I wonder if the Nintendo DS or PSP or Game Boy are treated with this metal? Do you know?

By anon40517 — On Aug 09, 2009

i have just had a pacemaker implanted. I know that I am highly allergic to metals, not just nickel. My eyes are now extremely puffy, I feel like my head weighs a ton, and my nose itchs terribly. I think I am allergic to the pacer. What can I do??? My metal allergies started when I pierced my ears. I let them heal over almost immediately, but to no avail. The allergy lingers on. Help please!

By anon37683 — On Jul 21, 2009

I have a metal allergy and recently had a cardiac stent placed. I am concerned about having metal implanted in my body. My doctors dismiss my concern, but I am still worried.

By anon36067 — On Jul 09, 2009

I found your article to be very interesting. How can I prevent an allergic reaction to the metal in my glasses? Where the arms of the glasses touch my face I have break outs. Please advise me what to do to prevent this. My glasses were purchased just 3 weeks ago and already the metal is breaking down and peeling off. Thanks, Renee

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