Where It All Began

My nickel food allergy diagnosis process.
Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash.
Learn about my skin patch testing story where I learned about my systemic nickel allergy.

Experiencing severe red itchy eczema all over my face, neck and arms seven years ago I met with a dermatologist. Recently requesting copies of my medical records reminded me how my dermatologist originally believed my eczema might have been caused by a contact allergy. Before any testing, he recommended I eliminate all fragrances from both my cosmetics and laundry detergents, which I did immediately. Now I use All free & clear laundry detergent, Skintifique to cleanse my face and my Skin Care for Atopic Dermatitis post describes other nickel free products I use.

Within two weeks of eliminating fragrances, my eczema had improved by about 50%. However, I continued to experience severe eczema all over my face – including my eye lids and along my neck. At that point my dermatologist ordered I undergo a skin patch test to determine which possible hidden allergens could be causing my eczema.

A skin patch test is a test where a medical professional places a small sample of a specific number of potential allergens on your skin in little patches or squares. In my case, they used my back to test 127 total potential allergens over a 5 day period.

The skin patch test began on a Monday, where a nurse drew lots of tiny squares on my back. To prepare for my appointment, I brought all of the cosmetic products I used to my doctor’s office. The nurse then applied 24 common cosmetic allergens, 85 standard patch testing allergens and the 18 samples of my personal products I used. Each potential allergen was placed in one of the 127 squares.

I was told to not cleanse or itch my back during the week, as that could compromise the test results. Returning to the clinic both that Wednesday & Friday for a two and four day follow-up allowed the doctor and nurse to chart my skin reactions in relationship to the list of potential allergens. During the Friday appointment my dermatologist diagnosed me with atopic dermatitis and allergies to nickel sulfate, neomycin and thimerosal.

My dermatologist then asked about my diet and informed me about the low nickel diet. He mentioned that many people only react to nickel when they come into direct contact with something that contains nickel. However, small amounts of people have systemic nickel allergy syndrome (SNAS) where they experience eczema when they eat foods high in nickel.

Suggesting I try the “low nickel diet” for 6 weeks by avoiding foods higher in nickel, my dermatologist gave me a list of 40 foods that contained higher amounts of nickel.

Feeling overwhelmed I didn’t know where to start. I ate nearly all of those foods on a regular basis, if not daily. Talking with my partner, together we went to the grocery store and spent hours in each store isle reading food labels. For the entire 6 weeks, I limited my intake of foods higher in nickel. My eczema cleared up and I looked like a new person.

When I returned to my doctor’s office, it was determined that I was one of the lucky individuals with systemic nickel allergy syndrome or otherwise a nickel food allergy.

Adapting to a food allergy isn’t easy. It took me a couple years to not feel restricted or limited by what I ate. Now I see various possibilities when I think about food. Actually having a diagnosis and treatment plan positively changed my life.

Many of you have told me you had trouble receiving an accurate diagnosis of your nickel allergy and/or nickel food allergy. I know some of you found relief after visiting with an allergist. Undergoing a skin patch test conducted by a dermatologist, which identified I am allergic to nickel and then trying the low nickel diet is how I learned that my atopic dermatitis is caused by ingesting foods higher in nickel.

If you’re newly diagnosed or struggling to determine if you have a nickel food allergy I always suggest visiting with a medical professional. What works for me, might not be what works for you. There might be another reason why your atopic dermatitis isn’t resolving.

I too appreciate all your experiences and insight! Tell me your own experiences in the comment section below.

12 comments
  1. It was very refreshing to hear your story. I have been dealing with a rash around my eyes and on my lips and chin (which has gotten progressively worse) for 2 years. My allergist, too, suggested it was a contact allergy and I made changes accordingly, yet my symptoms persisted. I am now trying to avoid nickel in foods, and am a bit depressed by the limitations. It is encouraging to hear that a low nickel diet is achievable. Besides nickel, I too am allergic to thimerosal! Thank you for the great information!

    1. Melinda,
      Thanks for commenting on my website. I am glad my story is refreshing and helpful. Prior to my diagnosis, I experienced terribly painful and embarrassing eczema around my eyes.
      Wow! I haven’t met another allergic to both nickel and thimerosal! I know there are others allergic to nickel and neomycin, but not thimerosal. I don’t know if there is a correlation, but it’s always helpful to know I’m not the only one.
      I enjoy staying in touch and would love to hear how you do on the low-nickel diet and whether or not it helps resolve your eczema.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  2. Great to read about your ordeal It’s great to know I am not the only one. I was actually diagnosed with a nickel, formaldehyde, methylisothiazolinone about two months ago. It’s pretty overwhelming reading about it and the limitations I am facing have made me a bit depressed as well. I am seeking all the help I can get such as going to a dietitian for a meal plan because since I am limited so much, I don’t know what to do. If you have any suggestions, I appreciate it.

    1. Hi Lis,
      I think it’s great to try to meet with a dietitian who is knowledgeable about systemic nickel allergy syndrome (SNAS) and your other allergies. Hopefully there are some excellent dietitians out there you can meet with and who will provide you valuable insight to your allergies. I understand how daunting and overwhelming the diagnosis can be and suggest taking things slowly and day by day. There are other blog posts on my website that you might be useful.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  3. Interesting to read, I am just starting on my nickel allergy journey. Getting a professional to believe you when you say it starts with what you eat is a challenge for sure. I too have spent years being told to ‘just not touch’ what makes me react. It is really not that simple. Fast forward a few years and am now owner to an epi pen and only just being taken seriously, although i use that term loosely… finally had hospital allergy referral, dermatologist appointment due soon. In the meantime a daily diet of steroids, antihistamine and nothing much else other than dairy to hold off more awful flare ups. Thanks for your blog and info x

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It’s disheartening when medical professionals don’t listen to their patients. I hope your appointment with your dermatologist goes well. Much of the research about systemic nickel allergy syndrome or nickel food allergies is from dermatologists who study the skin. I have to take antihistamines, but have had to take steroids from time to time to radically reduce my symptoms. It’s not fun!
      This allergy certainly is a journey. Hope your eczema turns a corner in a better direction.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  4. Hello! I have had this allergy almost all my life! 55years. My grandmother had it. She told me “the old people” in the family said she was allergic to the cold! As it was mostly in winter. I would get terrible eczema rash all over. And hives! Of course as I got older it got worse. If I ate citrus I would always get blisters on and in mouth. Pineapple was the worst! I still ate it! It got so bad I had to have my tonsils out. I want to say now I did have a lot of metal fillings in my teeth. And of course now realize the citrus dissolved nickel in fillings and may have made the problem worse. I am not sure if any one else has this problem. I do have a sister with it also. I am not so bad as over the years getting fillings replaced with porcelain ones. And have been avoiding nickel foods. By the way I was tested in 2002 for a nickel allergy! Never realized til a few years ago nickel is also in foods of course ones I love!

    1. Hi Linda,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing your story. Glad to hear you’ve been able to replace most of your metal filings and that’s helped reduce your symptoms, in addition to eating a lower nickel diet. That’s interesting nickel allergies run in your family, including both your grandmother and sister. Though nickel allergies are more common among women, I wonder if my father also had it. Before my diagnosis, I didn’t know food could contain nickel either, especially the foods I used to eat all the time!
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  5. Really pleased I found your blog. After suffering big time with on and off bouts of horrible eczema/swelling around my eyes and cheeks/face for about 15 years, and thinking that it was alcohol because it almost always flares within 24 hours of drinking, I have finally got an allergy test since relocating to Germany from the UK that confirms I have a nickel allergy. I know non-contact diet nickel allergies are rare but this explains feelings of fatigue, joint pain, and general unwellness that I experience when it flares up. Feeling daunted by the nickel foods list (especially chocolate!) But I will try a low nickel diet to see how I get on. Looking forward to trying the recipes on your blog!

    1. Hi Mary,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my blog. If you try a low nickel diet, I hope it helps your symptoms. Eating low nickel can be overwhelming, especially at first. Sometimes changing out your cookware can also have a dramatic impact. It takes time to adjust and fine new treats to replace high nickel sweets, like chocolate.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

  6. I’m so thankful to have found your very informative and reassuring blog. I had been dealing with some mild autoimmune issues (joint pain, dry eyes) and, for about 2 years, was following a whole foods, plant-based diet protocol that initially seemed to be very helpful. However, I was just diagnosed with a nickel allergy and realized that my diet was EXTREMELY high in nickel. (This diet protocol involves tons of green smoothies with large amounts of chia or flax seeds every day — adding up to huge amounts of nickel.) I have been so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do. My daughter and I are vegetarian, and it seems very difficult to do a low-nickel diet without eating animal products. So I appreciate the many recipes on your site, and the fact that there are some vegetarian options.

    I do worry that, by switching to a low-nickel diet, I’m trading relief from nickel allergies for the relief from joint pain that the WFPB diet gave me. (But maybe the low-nickel diet will help with that as well?) And, even more confusingly, I actually have steel sutures (containing about 10% nickel) in my abdomen from a surgery a few years ago, and I imagine I’m stuck with those. All so confusing and stressful …. which just makes me even more grateful to have found your blog. Thank you!

    1. Hi Lily,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It is very challenging to be a vegetarian on the low nickel diet as the majority of low nickel protein sources are meat, eggs and dairy. I’ve heard from many vegans and vegetarians who felt they had to reintroduce meat in their diet, even if sparingly. I used to be a vegetarian, but I haven’t been since I was a teenager, which was about 8 years before my systemic nickel allergy diagnosis. Some vegetarians with systemic nickel allergies rely heavily on quinoa, which I’d recommend rinsing. A point based system, as mentioned in Joanne’s website, could be beneficial for you.
      Warm regards,
      Christy

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