Q: I’m a teenager with nickel allergy. All my friends have cellphones and I’ve asked my parents for one, too, but I’m worried nickel in the cellphone will cause my face and hands to break out in a rash. What can I do?
Purvi Parikh, MD: Nickel allergy is a common contact allergy and it can cause a red, itchy skin rash. Most cellphones nowadays have low nickel content. When buying a cellphone, look into which ones have higher vs. lower nickel content. Then when using the phone, wait to see if you break out in a rash in the area where you are holding it, either on your face or in your hand.
If the nickel in the cellphone is causing a skin reaction, then you may want to look into another brand – avoidance of nickel is key if you have a nickel allergy. You can also consider using a hands-free or Bluetooth headset, both of which should help minimize contact with the cellphone.
Q: What other concerns should I be aware of with nickel allergy?
Dr. Parikh: Nickel is in quite a few things. Besides cellphones, nickel is often in jewelry. If you notice you are getting rashes in the area where your necklace, bracelet or earrings are, then there may be traces of nickel in it.
Nickel is also found in belt buckles and metal clasps. Some people are so sensitive to nickel that even canned foods can cause a breakout.
A board-certified allergist can help determine what’s causing symptoms. You may have to write down all of metal-based products you’re using to find out what nickel products are causing the rashes.
You should also discuss treatment in case an accidental nickel exposure occurs. If you experience a rash, then over-the-counter creams, ointments and other medications recommended by your allergist should help clear it up.
And you can also find out from your allergist if nickel is the only metal you are allergic to. For example, some people with nickel allergy are also allergic to cobalt, as well as gold and other metals.
Purvi Parikh, MD, FACP, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill and New York University School of Medicine in New York City. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Advocacy Council of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
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