09 Oct Contact Allergies To Nickel And Neosporin
Allergic Skin Reactions
“Anybody can become allergic to anything at any time.” These were the wise words of man I trained under who specialized in allergic skin reactions. I find myself repeating this mantra daily. Usually when a mystery rash has crept into one’s life, human nature tends to blame anything new. Was it the new shampoo? New kitten? Spray the yard guy used? Or the (insert new event/product here)? After all why would your tried and true products suddenly turn on you? If eliminating the new exposure doesn’t cause the rash to disappear, you should consider an allergy to an old product. The product didn’t change. You did.
Take a look at the ingredient label on your hand soap or shampoo for example. Chances are, there are at least ten listed ingredients including fragrances, preservatives, and stabilizers. Any of these can suddenly elicit an allergy after decades of usage. You probably do not know what these ingredients are, let alone are you likely able to even pronounce them. Most products also have ingredients not on the label and one must call the company to get a complete list. And natural products are not off the hook either. They may have less chemicals but your body can become allergic to them as well.
A common example of this is allergy to the metal nickel. We begin our exposure to nickel the day we get our first snap button pants. Most of us get some small measure of nickel exposure daily in our rings and belt buckles without any problems. For some unknown twist of fate, some people’s body starts reacting to nickel, mistakenly identifying it as something that could harm you. And once your body has locked on a substance like nickel, your immune system will always be sensitive to it. So any future small amounts of nickel that touch you can potentially elicit an itchy red rash. It is actually the same process by which we become allergic to poison oak. Very few people are born being allergic. With every exposure we inch closer to an invisible threshold of allergy. For some of us, it may be a few exposures. Others may never become allergic. It is highly individualized. When someone claims they are not allergic to anything, they really should be stating they are “not allergic yet.”
Nickel In Products
It is incredible how many products have nickel as a constituent. Eyeglass frames, cell phones, jewelry, pots and pans, buckles, and keys are just a few everyday items waiting to trigger the unlucky allergic person. If you have a suspicion that nickel is in an object you can obtain a home test kit online for about $20. These kits detect even trace amounts of the substance and do not damage the item being tested. Nickel in one’s diet can even be a culprit and foods like chocolate and spinach become taboo.
In the past, nickel allergy has been more prevalent in women. But now that everybody is piercing almost every body part, it is just as common in men. Studies show that the more piercings one has correlates proportionately with increased risk of nickel allergy. If you have invested time and pain in multiple piercings only to find you have a nickel allergy, may I suggest the old fashioned chicken bone instead.
Your dermatologist can test you for many skin specific allergies by performing patch testing. Since these do not show up in blood tests, it is necessary to expose your skin to small and precisely measured quantities of allergens. These are embedded in a patch and then placed upon your back for a few days; hence ‘patch test’.
And lastly, neomycin and bacitracin, the main ingredients in most over-the-counter antibiotic creams (Neosporin, Polysporin) have emerged as two of the most troublesome allergens of our time. The company’s slogan of “Every Cut. Every Time” is slowly leading to bacterial resistance and has sensitized an entire generation of people to become allergic. Now when someone comes into the office with an “infected” wound, my first question is “Are you using Neosporin?” Most of the time the spot is not infected but the allergic response to Neosporin makes telling the difference difficult. I do not recommend using these products unless you suspect a wound is already infected. The widespread prophylactic slathering of neomycin on “Every cut, every time” helps nobody (unless you are selling Neosporin). As more people are gravitating to Tea Tree Oil en mass for skin infections, I predict the same phenomenon will play out in a few years.
Two of the constituents of Neosporin and Polysporin have been immortalized as “Allergens of the Year”; a distinction given to a deserving molecule for wrecking misery upon mankind in the form of skin allergens and awarded annually by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. Neomycin took home the prize in 2008 and bacitracin boasted a victory in 2003. Poor old nickel had to wait until 2010 for its due despite being the most prevalent allergen. I’m pulling for Tea Tree Oil 2014 personally. Oh the suspense!