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Allergies to Metal in Pierced Ears

by
author image Sriram Ramgopal
Sriram Ramgopal is a medical graduate from Sri Ramachandra University, India. He currently lives in the the greater Boston area and works as a Neurology Research Fellow at Children's Hospital, Boston. Ramgopal is also the co-founder of Sangam India, a nonprofit urban development organization based in Chennai, India.
Allergies to Metal in Pierced Ears
Earrings on display with other jewelry. Photo Credit kviktor01/iStock/Getty Images

Metal allergies can be evident in pierced ears or wherever skin comes into contact with metals, such as with watches, necklaces or other jewelry. This form of allergic reaction is called contact dermatitis, and is due to your body's reacting to impurities in metal products. You can treat contact dermatitis by avoiding the irritating jewelry and using local creams to soothe the inflammation. People with metal allergies should wear earrings that are hypoallergenic.

Cause of Metal Allergy

Unlike other allergic reactions such as asthma or hives which occur immediately following exposure to the irritant, contact dermatitis is slow to form and equally slow to disappear. Your immune system, the cells of the body that fights off infections, can react against impurities in jewelry and cause the characteristic rash of contact dermatitis. Many metallic-alloy earrings contain varying amounts of admixed nickel. Nickel can cause reactions in many people and is the most common cause of contact dermatitis.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of contact dermatitis usually occur two to three days following exposure to the metal. With earrings, the rash typically occurs around the site of the piercing, this is often described as "earlobe dermatitis." The affected skin becomes raised, red and itchy; small blisters may form which seep a watery fluid. In severe cases, the skin can become leathery and crackled. The rash is often worse in the summer, as sweating can allow irritants to penetrate deeper into the skin.

Treatment

The most important form of treatment in contact dermatitis is to avoid the irritating substance. A steroid cream may hasten recovery. If the rash persists despite these measures, a visit to the dermatologist may be needed to find out what other substances may be causing a reaction. This can be done through skin-testing. Once you've identified the irritating substances, you can attempt to avoid them, which should prevent recurrence of the rash.

Hypoallergenic Earrings

Many cheaper earrings have nickel in them which can cause reactions in susceptible people. People with nickel allergies should ensure that they wear jewelry that is hypoallergenic, or nickel-free. Earrings marketed as such usually have a lower nickel content. However, in some people, even these earrings can trigger a reaction. Jewelry made from titanium and stainless steel are also less likely to cause allergies. The safest products are those made from sterile silver and gold; these metals are highly unreactive except in the rarest of cases.

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References

  • "Clinical Medicine"; Praveen Kumar; 2005
  • "Clinical Dermatology"; Thomas Habif; 2004
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