Could children be allergic to their jeans?

(Photo provided)

Parents have been itching to ask me if their child’s itchy rash, after wearing jeans with a metal button made from nickel, might be an allergy to the metal itself. Well let me do more than nickel-and-dime you by providing some important information on this topic.

What is a nickel allergy?

Nickel is a metal used in clothes, jewelry — and even cellphones and tablets. Believe it or not, about 11 million children in this country have a skin allergy to this metal, either just where the skin is directly exposed to nickel or sometimes all over the body. A nickel allergy usually appears as a rash beginning within 12 to 48 hours after exposure and can last for as long as two to four weeks. The rash represents your body mistaking nickel as something that can harm you and is characterized by itchiness, redness, bumps and blistering of the skin.

What to do if your child has a reaction

Nickel allergy tends to occur more in people who have piercings or wear jewelry every day, who work with metal regularly, have a family history of nickel allergy, or are allergic to other metals as well.

If you think your child might have this problem, call your health care professional, who can help diagnose it or may refer you to a pediatric allergy specialist. As to treatment, the first line is usually an over-the-counter antihistamine, but sometimes a prescription anti-inflammatory ointment or oral medication like a steroid may be needed as well.

How to prevent a recurrence

Here are some suggestions and recommendations in accordance with a recent policy on nickel allergy from the America Academy of Pediatrics.

¯ Buy your child belts and jewelry that are labeled “nickel-free” or made from surgical grade stainless steel or other metals like gold, silver or platinum. If your child does want to wear something with nickel, coat the metal parts that touch the skin with a clear nail polish, and that will reduce the risk.

¯ Be aware that there are foods that may contain nickel, including chocolate and cocoa powder, some nuts, soy products and salad dressings — and food labels can help identify if the metal is in a particular food.

¯ Running tap water for a few seconds will flush out any nickel that leaches from pipes into the water.

Hopefully, tips like these have allowed me to provide more than just 5 cents worth of information when it comes to knowing more about your child possibly having a nickel allergy.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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