Considering the widespread use of copper in dentistry, medicine, industrial use, coinage and personal adornment, copper sensitivities are rare. According to a 1998 report in the British Medical Journal, from 1960 to 1976, St John’s Institute of Dermatology treated only one case of copper contact allergy, which occurred in a woman whose hobby was copper beating.
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Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts to a substance that the body mistakenly perceives as harmful. White blood cells produce antibodies, which enter the bloodstream and attach to cells. This prompts the release of histamines that cause allergic symptoms such as skin rash, diarrhea, nausea, muscle pain, fatigue and hair loss.
Sources of Allergens
Copper in the environment has potential to trigger an allergic reaction from sources such as industrial wastes, pesticides, herbicides or insecticides, swimming pool chemicals and even permanent wave hair solutions. Dentistry uses copper in amalgam fillings. Medical appliances such as IUDs have caused reactions. Industrial use of copper is commonplace in piping and electrical wiring. Acidic food or beverages such as beer, tap water and pasteurized milk left standing in copper plumbing pipes or copper cookware can dissolve quantities of copper sufficient enough to cause acute toxicity, according to MoonDragon's Health & Wellness site. Tobacco and the use of oral contraceptives can cause an increase of serum copper in the body.
IUDs have been a cause of copper allergies. The German “Die Medizinische Welt” published the case of a woman developing a rare allergic reaction with itchy skin eruptions after the insertion of a copper IUD, as determined by an allergy scratch test. Fillings for tooth cavities may consist of a combination of metals including copper. “The Science of the Total Environment” cited an article that concluded long-term exposure to copper from copper-rich amalgam fillings, in combination with a copper intake from drinking water, caused a contact allergy in a 65-year-old female.
Food and Supplements
The World Health Organization suggests safe consumption of copper is 10mg to 12mg per day. Excessive supplementation or low levels of zinc can result in raised levels of copper, causing serious long-term health problems that include liver failure and death. Although sudden copper toxicity from ingestion is very rare, the body’s reaction may cause symptoms such as metallic taste, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, yellow skin, chills and convulsions. Wilson's disease is a rare hereditary disorder in which copper accumulates due to the body's inability to metabolize the metal.
If you suspect you have copper toxicity from food or supplements, decrease your intake of foods rich in copper such as legumes, seafood, nuts, cocoa, avocados, black pepper, raisins, molasses, whole grains and cauliflower. See your health care professional if you experience a contact allergy from a metallic source.