MIAMI (CBS4) – It’s an itchy debilitating rash that can break out when your skin touches a usually harmless substance. It can happen at any age, lead to infection and even scaring and blood poisoning. But this hidden allergy is often tough to figure out.
“It all started in the 9th grade. We didn’t know what was going on,” Jennifer Schottenloher said. “We were going to the doctor and they were treating it for staph.”
But the itching, painful red blotches all over her body didn’t have anything to do with a staph infection. She was treated improperly for a year until finally she went to another doctor who told Jennifer she had the ‘hidden allergy’, she’s allergic to nickel.
The problem is a serious one. The symptoms are a rash, bumps, itching, redness, dry patches that feel like a burn, blisters and draining fluid.
For Jennifer the primary culprit, but hardly the only one, was her jewelry.
“My friend got me this ring and I’m not allowed to wear it. My finger turned green and it got really swollen,” said Jennifer.
You can develop the allergy when you’re your young, middle age, or retirement age. It’s more common in women and the problem is everywhere.
There’s nickel in watches, zippers, bra hooks, belt buckles, hairpins, eyeglass frames, coins, knives, forks, paper clips, pens, keys, tools, dental fillings, batteries even your cell phones and make up.
“Even the door knobs at school are metal and my hands get really swollen. Sometimes it wouldn’t kick in til the day after or a couple days later,” said Jennifer.
Allergy specialist Dr. Kathryn Eisermann said this is ‘hidden’ or so confusing because your symptoms may not show up for seven days and it doesn’t stop with what you wear. Foods like soy, legumes, oatmeal, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit and even tap water contain nickel. The first liter of tap water out of the faucet has the highest level.
Overall, 15 percent of Americans will have an allergy to nickel, but likely will go months or years without knowing what’s causing their problem.
Some country’s like Denmark have outlawed Nickel in products. It’s an offense punishable by prison time.
In the U.S., however, you’re on your own; but the diagnosis may not be as difficult to make as you think.
There is a test kit you can buy to see if there is nickel in a product. A doctor will do a more specific patch test on you to test you for all kinds of allergies.
That’s how Jennifer’s nickel allergy was diagnosed. Knowing the problem is having power said the doctor.
“You know what it is, go after it and avoid it,” said Dr. Eisermann.
Jennifer says that’s fine with her. After going a year without the proper diagnosis she at least knows how to control her hidden allergy one clothing item and one bite of food at a time.
“I had to throw away all the jewelry. The jewelry I love,” Jennifer said.
Aside from staying away from items or foods with nickel, there is a way to treat the breakouts and blistering with antihistamines, oral steroids or oral cortisone just in case you come in contact with the wrong item.