Ear Piercing and Nickel Allergy

Posted 9.20.12 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

When it comes to allergies, most everyone knows about seasonal allergies. Our readers, mostly Neocate families, are also very familiar with food allergies.  But maybe you’ve met someone who can’t wear certain types of jewelry because of a metal allergy? It sounds strange, but you may be interested to know that jewelry can pose a problem, and ear piercing may be a culprit! If you’re thinking of piercing your little one’s ears, consider this scientific publication that I came across recently. You really do learn something new every day!

Recent Research

As I was reading a medical journal, I came across an interesting case study. As we’ve discussed before, a case study is a report of one or several patients who have something unusual about their diagnosis or treatment. Medical teams write them when they feel their experience in caring for these patients can help other medical teams who see the same thing.

The article, which you can find a copy of here, presented one boy’s experience after he swallowed a coin. It was written by Dr. Elaine Kaye and several of her colleagues from both Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA and the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Within a day of swallowing a Canadian quarter that was mostly made of nickel*, the child developed a very severe skin rash and fever. The team discovered that he’d swallowed the coin by accident in an x-ray. The mother recalled he’d reacted to metal snaps in clothing as a baby. The boy’s skin gradually improved after the coin was removed.

Nickel Allergy

An allergy to nickel can develop when the skin comes in contact with nickel. This can be skin on the surface (from a watch band), or it can happen when something metal containing nickel is swallowed or inhaled. Not everyone will develop a nickel allergy, but nickel is the most common allergen in patients who undergo skin patch testing, especially children. The effects of a nickel allergy can include eczema and/or redness of the skin. In rare cases of nickel allergy, anaphylaxis can occur after exposure to nickel.

Ear Piercing and Nickel Allergy

One of the most interesting points that the doctors made in their case study was that ear piercing is a very common risk factor for developing a nickel allergy. It seems that if the posts or other parts of the earrings that come into contact with skin contain nickel, they can act as the “first exposure” to nickel that then sets the stage for nickel allergy. If a nickel allergy already exists, the earrings could cause an allergic reaction.

If you’re considering piercing your little one’s ears, it may be a good idea to check with the healthcare team to see what their thoughts are or if they would recommend any testing. And if you do decide to pierce, it may be best to try to find earrings that do not contain nickel. This website has some helpful information on where you can find nickel-free jewelry.

Have you had any experience with a nickel allergy, or do you have problems wearing some jewelry?

- Rob

*Most of the coins in the United States that are silver in color contain some nickel.

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.