Silver Allergy: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
An actual allergy to silver itself is extremely rare – certainly there have been a few recorded cases. Silver in its purest form has a very low allergenic probability and if you are one of the unlucky few who develop an allergy to silver then it is most likely a result of the nickel that is found in most silver jewelry as opposed to the silver itself. But how does this cause a reaction? It is said that 1 out of 9 people will suffer some form of reaction to nickel; surely a piece of jewelry is not naturally harmful to my body so why does my body feel that it needs to react?
You have your immune system to thank for this reaction. Essentially our immune system is designed to deal with things that are harmful to us – bacteria, viruses etc… - but occasionally it will have a case of mistaken identity in that it incorrectly determines that a substance, in this case nickel, is damaging and responds accordingly. All it takes is for this to happen once and your immune system will constantly perceive nickel to be dangerous to your body therefore causing a lifetime of discomfort if you continue to come into contact with objects with nickel (Ni) present. Unfortunately, even given the tremendous strides in modern science, the actual chemical process that is the cause of Nickel allergy is unknown; though there has been suggestions in the medical world that it is genetic. What we do know is that it results in much discomfort for the victim.
Picture the scene. You’re out with your friends wearing a new piece of silver. Arriving home some hours later you find that your neck, where the silver necklace was, has broken out into a red rash. It’s itchy and immensely uncomfortable and irritable. This is contact dermatitis. It is in essence a skin reaction caused by, as we mentioned, your immune system mistakenly taking nickel for a harmful agent. This is your body's way of telling you that something doesn't agree with it. And just to complicated matters somewhat there are two forms of dermatitis; contact and irritant. They are both fundamentally a result of the offending object or substance but differ in that contact dermatitis only affects the area directly around where the object was touching and irritant dermatitis is more widespread. However the symptoms of both are similar.
If you think that you do suffer from a silver allergy as a result of the nickel present then you should have developed some of the following symptoms.
Blisters, Welts or Hives
Itchy and/or Burning Skin.
I think we can all agree that none of us want to experience any of these petulant symptoms. The first mentioned symptom, a red rash, is the most common when talking about a reaction to a silver piece of jewelry. However sometimes it is unlikely that this symptom will show immediately after contact with the offending object – it could take 3 or 4 days for the signs to start appearing. This is perhaps why a silver allergy is often difficult to diagnose as you could have came into contact with a number of irritants and allergenic agents in this time period. Furthermore your immune system is volatile. It could, on a whim, just decide that something will cause your body harm and result in the above mentioned symptoms. Therefore you could be wearing a silver necklace that contains nickel for years and experience no side-effects until one day your body decides to react.
The treatment will obviously depend on how harsh the symptoms
are. More often than not they are just uncomfortable for the victim without
posing any significant or severe health risks that would require emergency
medical attention. However a trip to your doctor is strongly advised. Many
people who have suffered some of the above ailments when coming into contact
with silver or nickel have found that Egocort (Hydrocortisone) cream is of great
benefit. This is a
corticosteroids, a form of steroid hormones, that offer relief for such
disorders as rashes, sunburn,
dermatitis and eczema. Hence
why it is popular amongst the few who are susceptible to silver allergy. It
comes as an ointment that allows it to penetrate deeper under the skin.
What precautions can you take to ensure the chance of
developing an allergy in the first place? If you have just got a
piercing and are using a silver piece of jewelry then the chances of
developing an allergy are much greater. The best advice in this scenario is to
use stainless steel jewelry while the wound is healing. Stainless Steel always
contains nickel however it is heavily compounded and constrained in this
particular form of silver so its chances of coming into contact with the skin
are minimal. That is not to say that this is a 100% guarantee that you won’t
develop any of the above symptoms but the chances are significantly reduced.
Other preventions include ensuring that the area where the silver jewelry will
be worn is completely dry; especially after, say, a bath. If there are still
some traces of soap then this severely decreases the effectiveness of the skins
protective shield allowing the nickel element to come into direct contact with
your skin. Ensuring that the area is well dry and clean before wearing any
silver jewelry will do wonders towards preventing a reaction. A small amount
of Talcum Powder under the area where the jewelry will be worn can also be of
A further tip that a lot of unfortunate nickel allergy suffers
recommended is to get your silver jewelry coated in Palladium. This is a
chemical element with a silvery finish that will help protect your skin from
coming into direct contact with the nickel that is present in most silver pieces
Most of us are fixated by jewelry. Its glamour, its shine,
its ability to the finishing touches on our new outfit. However for some the act
of wearing jewelry, and in particular, silver jewelry, can be a painful one.
While a reaction to the silver itself is rare, a reaction to nickel is not and
many people suffer its consequence. Itchy skin, burning rashes, painful blisters
and unsightly hives are just some of the untoward outcomes of silver jewelry.
However, if you are one of these unlucky people, then you are not alone. The
best advice is you experience a reaction similar to what has been described
above is to go to your doctor. Medicines such as Egocort and other anti-allergy
drugs have worked wonders for some patients. Also, the few tips mentioned in
this article – making sure the area is completely dry, coating your jewelry in
Palladium, are useful however they will not assure that you no longer suffer any
ill effects as a result of your skin coming into contact with silver.
Unfortunately the best advice might be to stop wearing silver jewelry, or
anything that contains nickel completely. fine silver and sterling silver are
almost pure silver so unless you are a rarity and suffer a pure silver reaction
then this may be a better, if not more expensive, alternative to jewelry which
contains nickel. This might not be the most popular suggestion but it is one
that will determine if the reactions that your body makes are a direct result of
silver or nickel. Many however will continue to bear the burden of irritability;
for pain in sometimes the price we pay for beauty.