Thursday, 20 June 2013
You could be allergic to your nickel bra clasps and under wires !!!!!!!!!!!
Flare up: Sadie and a rash caused by her nickel allergy
For nearly five years, the lesion on my stomach simply refused to heal. What started as a ten pence-sized cluster of red bumps just above my belly button, developed within weeks into an angry red sore patch the size of my palm.
Impossibly itchy, it wouldn't clear up, despite liberal applications of just about everything from antiseptic and anti-histamine creams to calamine lotion. Scratching, naturally, only made the condition worse.
But what had caused this extreme reaction? A tropical insect bite? A rare skin infection?
No. When I eventually consulted a private dermatologist, it turned out a belt buckle and the button on the fly of my jeans were to blame.
They both contained the everyday, silvery-white metal, nickel, which is found in everything from costume jewellery to small change.
Despite never having had a problem before, suddenly in my mid-20s I'd become highly allergic to it.
Since then I've been caught out by bra clasps, chain straps on handbags and even sunglasses with metal arms, all of which left angry welts on my skin, sometimes within minutes of coming into contact with them.
So when I read last week that there's been a massive surge in nickel allergies - one in ten Britons is now a fellow sufferer - I wasn't surprised.
It's an allergy that seems insignificant until you actually suffer from it yourself, and it is reported that one in five women, like me, does. That's because nickel is everywhere in places you'd never imagine.
It's used in over 300,000 items from batteries and cooking utensils, to pans and, yes, the proverbial kitchen sink. It's found in paper clips, toasters, zips, car keys, bath plugs, door handles, scissors and even in the metal trims and keypads of many mobile phones.
Analysis has shown that the five and ten pence coins introduced since January 2012 contain four times more of the metal than they used to. Cheaper to produce than the old coins, which were made from an alloy of around 70 per cent copper and 25 per cent nickel, the new slightly thicker coins are steel with a nickel coating.
Experts have warned that handling these coins regularly could trigger contact eczema or dermatitis, and cause painful cracked and sore skin.
There are increasing amounts of nickel in coinage
Lindsey McManus, of Allergy UK, says many nickel allergy sufferers already report having to wear rubber gloves when handling coins, and with the new 5p and 10p pieces she fears the problem may become even more prevalent, especially among workers such as shop cashiers and bus drivers who handle money all day.
Nickel can even penetrate cloth, so men who put their loose change in their pockets can find it aggravates the skin on their legs underneath.
Prevalent in the earth's crust, nickel is easily available and cheap. It's also hard-wearing and doesn't corrode, which makes it a popular choice in manufacturing.
It can even get into our food from the equipment used to handle, cook or store it.
Tinned tuna, for example, contains nickel from the can. As a trace element, nickel occurs naturally in soil and, as it is absorbed through the roots of many plants, it is found in most vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Cocoa, raspberries, peanuts and chickpeas are high in nickel, as are many of the products derived from them including chocolate and wine.
Thankfully I've yet to suffer a reaction to either, but that's not to say I won't in the future. The allergy has a way of creeping up on sufferers.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Tabi Leslie warns that a nickel allergy can strike anyone at any time. 'Like most allergies, it can develop suddenly at any age due to changes in the body's immune system and exposure to an irritant,' she says.
"Women have a higher risk simply because they are more likely to be exposed to nickel through jewellery and under wire bras"
'In a nutshell, the more we're exposed to it, the more likely we are to become sensitive to it and, with the increasing use of nickel, the numbers will only continue soaring.'
She explains that sensitisation occurs when the body starts thinking it's under attack and the immune system goes into overdrive, attacking healthy cells and tissue, and resulting contact eczema or dermatitis.
Five years ago I developed hives - a bumpy red rash - after swapping my usual breakfast cereal for porridge. Initially, make-up and a new moisturiser were chief suspects until my dermatologist told me that rolled porridge oats contain high levels of nickel.
Within days of giving up porridge, the eczema was less itchy, and within a few weeks it had disappeared. And a nickel allergy can also trigger a reaction on other patches of skin that haven't been in contact with it, what Lindsey McManus calls 'a referred reaction'.
'It can be baffling for people who aren't yet aware they're allergic to nickel,' she says.
Though rare, some people are so sensitive to nickel that it can trigger an immediate, and potentially fatal, reaction known as anaphylactic shock, where the airways close in on themselves.
The nickel allergy problem has become so great that Europe has introduced strict new rules on how much nickel can be used in items worn next to the skin such as watchstraps, earrings and necklaces. Coins were excluded because it was thought they did not release enough nickel to trigger reactions.
But researchers from the St John's Institute of Dermatology at St Thomas' Hospital, London, now say the high nickel levels in coins will dramatically escalate the problem of allergies in Britain.
So what can you do if you're a sufferer? As I found out myself, painting offending items with clear nail varnish can act as a barrier but it isn't foolproof.
'Anti-histamine tablets and creams help to break the itch-scratch cycle and relieve discomfort,' adds Dr Leslie, 'but to get rid of contact eczema you need a prescribed emollient to act as a barrier and reduce the dryness, and a topical steroid cream to reduce the immune reaction.'
It was a long course of steroid cream that eventually helped clear up the patch on my stomach. Unfortunately, what's best is avoiding the metal completely, something that's increasingly difficult.
Having a nickel allergy is a pain, quite literally, but perhaps it's not all bad. In 2011, Danish researchers found that those who reacted to common irritants such as perfume or nickel were less likely to develop three different cancers.
This may be because contact allergies, where the body falsely believes it is under attack, help prime the immune system to be super responsive and fight off other threats.
As the saying goes: 'Every cloud has a…..' Actually, I'd prefer a gold lining. Silver often contains nickel to strengthen it !
Ref: Daily mail UK, Dated: 19.June.13