Allergic reactions to 14 karat gold earrings and other metal jewelry are fairly common. Signs and symptoms can appear soon after exposure to new jewelry, or may develop over time as the metal on your earrings wear down. Reactions vary from localized, mild irritation at the site of the piercing to widespread and painful. If you have concerns about metal allergies or reactions to jewelry that you wear, consider speaking with your allergist or doctor.
Nickel is a metal component used in the gold alloy of most gold jewelry. It is used primarily because it is an inexpensive, hard metal that has a lightening and whitening effect and is often used in expensive jewewlry. 14 karat gold is 58.3 percent pure 24 karat gold, while the remaining percentage is composed of metal alloys including silver, nickel, copper and zinc, according to the Amazon Precious Metals Guide.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin around the earring, usually the earlobe and parts of the neck, reacts to the nickel and other metal elements found in the earring. The skin usually becomes swollen and a rash appears between 24 and 48 hours after exposure to the irritant. Inflammation may vary from mild irritation to open sores, depending on the severity of your reaction.
While you may not experience an allergic reaction after initially wearing new jewelry, the gold molecules may begin to wear away over time, exposing your earlobes to nickel and other metal alloys. Once you develop a sensitivity to the metal allergen, even brief contact can cause your contact dermatitis to reappear. In some cases, an allergic reaction that begins in the earlobes may initiate allergic reactions on other jewelry-adorned areas of the body that had previously never experienced an allergic response, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Treat your reaction by removing your earrings and washing the area with plenty of water to remove any remaining irritants. You can also apply an over-the-counter topical cortisone cream such as hydrocortisone cream. If your symptoms do not improve in five to seven days, you may need to speak with a doctor.
To prevent the wear of your gold earrings, consider getting them gold-plated with 24K gold, suggests dermatologist Audrey Kunin, M.D., of ShareCare, a healthcare information website. You can also try storing jewelry in airtight, dry pouch or bag that is free from solvents, detergents or adhesives. Polish your earrings regularly and wipe them clean after wearing them. If allergic reactions continue to occur, you may need to consider switching your earring and other jewelry metal to stainless steel, titanium or other hypoallergenic metal.
- Roman Research, Inc: Excerpts from the Academy of Dermatology News Releases: Ear Piercing Can Cause Metal Allergies
- ShareCare; Can Pure Gold Jewelry Cause a Nickel Allergy Reaction?; Audrey Kunin, MD
- Jewellery Catalogue: Gold Allergy
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Contact Dermatitis
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Contact Dermatitis