I recently had some allergy testing done, in order to get to the bottom of a mysterious rash on my hand and on my eyelids that has been coming and going for several years. When I told my dermatologist my symptoms and she took a look, she had a pretty immediate suspicion about what I was reacting to; but she recommended that we do an allergy patch test to confirm. So thus began my week of washing my hair under the faucet so as not to get my back wet. Big pain.
The test that the dermatologist used was called Thin-layer Rapid Use Epicutaneous Patch Test, or T.R.U.E. Test. The test consists of three large pieces of adhesive, like large rectangular stickers, each with 12 little squares of common allergens. The 36 allergens that the T.R.U.E. Test tests for includes things like fragrance, dyes, chemicals, rubbers, and metals, all of which are among the most common causes of dermatitis, or itching and rashes.
So the doc slaps the three stickers on my back, where I can’t really reach them, and tells me to come back in two days. She told me I might itch a bit, and it could either be from an allergic reaction to one of the allergens, or just an irritation from the adhesive stickers. By that afternoon I was pretty itchy, particularly in two spots. Obviously, I couldn’t tell what allergens corresponded to those spots because they were covered by the stickers, and I couldn’t really effectively itch. Suffice it to say, I was cranky.
Two days later I went back to get the stickers removed so the doc could see what, if anything I was reacting to. The T.R.U.E Test classifies allergic reactions at five levels: doubtful, irritant, weak positive, strong positive, and extreme positive. I was beyond extreme positive for two allergens: gold, and nickel. The doc didn’t put the stickers back on, but I was still instructed to not get my back wet and to come back at the end of the week to see if any delayed reactions showed up. Nothing did, but I sure itched like crazy for the rest of the week, and two weeks later I’ve still got the remnants of red welts on my back in the spots where those two allergens were.
So, wait. Gold and nickel?! Who on earth is allergic to gold and nickel? Well, as it turns out, it’s not all that uncommon. Something like 15% of the population, mostly women, have some degree of nickel allergy; but the gold allergy is less common. For me, this new information actually explains a lot: the red itchy, swollen, ears whenever I would wear earrings; the itchy back when I would wear dresses with back zippers (I always blamed the material or my detergent); and the constant neck scratching when I would wear necklaces, like I’ve got human fleas. I guess I thought everyone was just as itchy as me. Kind of like, before I got glasses in 4th grade I thought everyone just saw trees as big green blurs with no individual leaves. Turns out, thats not normal.
So what does this all mean? Well, no more wearing cheap jewelry for one. And no gold, not even white gold. No silver or platinum either, unless its confirmed nickel free. There is a test kit you can buy to test jewelry for nickel content, but I haven’t purchased that yet, I’m just laying off the jewelry for now. Also, I’m now hyperaware of just how much nickel there is EVERYWHERE. Keys, coins, doorknobs, handles, faucets, electronics, and a ton of other stuff you can’t really avoid. So now I’ve been instructed to cut the nickel where I can avoid it, so that includes things like flatware, cooking utensils, clothing, and food with a high nickel content.
So, you might be wondering, what kind of food has nickel? What does the nickel allergic person need to avoid? Well, only the foods that I tend to eat EVERY DAY, OF COURSE! Oats (my every morning breakfast), nuts (my every day snack), soybeans and soy products (my preferred meat alternative), chocolate (my too often treat), figs, dates, pineapple, raspberries, peas, legumes, lettuce, spinach, and shellfish, among other things. You can get a comprehensive list of high and low nickel content foods here.
Even food that normally doesn’t have high nickel content isn’t ok if it’s been cooked in cookware that contains nickel, like stainless steel. This is particularly true for acidic foods, like tomatoes, which cause nickel to leach out of stainless steel. I should note that eating food with high nickel content or cooking food in stainless steel is not a big deal for non-nickel allergic people, as their bodies will just process and excrete excess nickel.
So it looks like my diet will be changing a bit, at least for several months. Supposedly, a cheat is allowed occasionally once a strict nickel free diet is followed for a good length of time to clear up the symptoms. We’ll see how it goes. It won’t be easy, to know me is to know that I love chocolate, and being promptly tempted by chocolate goodness at Outside Lands last weekend was no fun, no fun at all.
Thankfully, there are no limits on cheese!
Ingredients to avoid if you have a nickel allergy:
Nickel sulfate (NiSO4) or nickel soluble salts
carbonyl nickel powder
Chrome (or chromate)
Ingredients to avoid if you have a gold allergy:
Gold or gold-plating
Gold sodium thiomalate
Gold sodium thiosulfate
Natrium-bis (thiosulfato) aurat (I)