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Silver allergy

A Silver allergy is an allergic reaction of the body to the precious metal silver, which mostly occurs in connection with silver jewelry. There is hardly any evidence of hypersensitivity to pure silver (fine silver). If there is talk of a silver allergy, the skin generally reacts allergically to the metal compounds contained in silver jewelry. These are called alloys (e.g. nickel). Characteristic allergy symptoms may occur on skin contact, including itchy, reddened skin, blistering at the point of contact or swollen mucous membranes.

What is a silver allergy?

The precious metal silver has been used by humans for jewelry for millennia, but it is also used in industry. It is considered to be very well tolerated, which is why silver jewelry is recommended for people with sensitive skin or for freshly pierced piercings. In fact, silver jewelry is usually not pure silver, but an alloy - this means that other metals are added to the silver in order to improve its properties or to make it easier to process.

In the case of silver allergy, a distinction must be made between a reaction to the silver in a piece of jewelry and other metallic components. Nowadays, silver jewelry is often rhodium-plated so that it does not tarnish, which of course can also react. In the past, supposed silver jewelry with nickel was a problem, nowadays even costume jewelry only contains very small amounts of nickel.

causes

Intolerance to the chemical element silver (Ag) in its pure form (fine silver) is extremely rare. Silver jewelry usually contains an admixture (alloy) of other metals (e.g. copper, nickel, zinc, palladium) in order to process the jewelry better and e.g. to prevent oxidation ("tarnishing") of the silver.

A silver allergy is therefore usually a hypersensitive reaction of the immune system to contact with the alloys. As a rule, the allergy is not congenital. Rather, the immune system develops a hypersensitivity (sensitization) to silver jewelry and the metals it contains.

The silver allergy is usually a so-called contact dermatitis that occurs when the skin comes into contact with the allergenic element (allergen). Nickel (nickel allergy) is one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis.

Symptoms and course

Typical symptoms:

  • Blistering of the skin
  • Swollen mucous membranes

A silver allergy triggers very similar symptoms and complaints as any other form of contact allergy. There is visible reddening of the skin where the silver was in direct contact. The skin forms blisters and itches, and depending on the severity of the allergy, the blistering can also be accompanied by pain. The symptoms of silver allergy usually improve very quickly if the person concerned removes the piece of jewelry or replaces it with another piece that does not contain silver. However, if the silver continues to be worn, permanent symptoms of the silver allergy also occur. The skin does not swell again and the blisters remain.

Certain allergens react with the skin and trigger a contact allergy.

diagnosis

Diagnosing a silver allergy works like any other allergy test. The only difficulty is that those affected even recognize the symptoms as an allergy. It may well happen that the skin reacts sensitively to a piece of jewelry that has been worn for a long time, without serious causes. The allergist will mark a small area on the patient's skin and then bring it into contact with silver.

The patient is then not allowed to wash this marked area of ​​skin for some time, otherwise the result could be falsified. After this time, the allergist will examine the skin at this point and determine whether or not an allergic reaction has occurred. If the typical symptoms of a contact allergy occur, the diagnosis is considered confirmed. In addition, blood tests can be ordered to be sure. In addition, it is also excluded at the same time that other substances are involved that could be contained in silver jewelry.

Treatment and therapy

Unfortunately, there is no treatment or therapy for the silver allergy. The person concerned is dependent on avoiding silver or the allergenic additives (e.g. nickel) as much as possible.

In fact, in the vast majority of silver jewelry there is a small amount of other metal compounds. When buying jewelery, you should therefore explicitly ask whether and how much alloy (e.g. nickel) is contained in a piece of jewelery.

Another alternative would be hypoallergenic jewelry made from materials such as titanium or surgical steel. These can be made to look very similar to silver, but do not involve any risk of an allergic reaction. Gold jewelry is also a good, albeit not inexpensive, alternative.

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prevention

The development of a silver allergy cannot be prevented. Most people tolerate silver very well, which is why the first piercings are often done with silver - this rarely causes problems. If you have a known silver allergy, there is no way around avoiding silver in the future. Either no jewelry is worn at all or you can find out about the silver content in different alloys.

People who have to avoid silver jewelry due to a silver allergy can consider alternatives such as steel or wood. Everyday items that contain silver should also be avoided. However, this mostly only affects members of certain craft trades.

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This article has been written using the latest medical literature and sound scientific sources.
Quality assurance by: Dr. med. Nunmaker
Last updated on: December 10, 2018
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