My Experience with Nickel Allergy & Available Solutions

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nor am I claiming to be one. I am not endorsing any of the products mentioned or implied. I am simply sharing my experience with a nickel allergy and the information/resources I have found to help.*

 Part 1

As a brass player, metal allergies are becoming more and more common with the exposure we have.

When I started to have a reaction, I didn’t know it was a nickel allergy at first; I simply thought I was just dehydrated. Then as it continued, I thought it was a reaction to my chapstick. My horn teacher at the time recommended only using Vaseline as a simpler alternative with fewer ingredients.

The symptoms persisted: very dry, chapped lips with resulting cracking and black (blackhead-like) bumps. My teacher offered that it might be a nickel allergy and put me in touch with another horn teacher that might know what to do.

In the meantime, I saw an allergist to help diagnose the issue and figure out how to solve it temporarily while I found a more permanent solution. I had a somewhat unique situation in that I had a visible reaction on both my lips and my right hand.

After diagnosing the situation, I was given a cream called Epiceram, which is typically used by forest rangers to prevent poison oak or ivy. The cream acts as a barrier between skin and the enivironment. I used Epiceram to create a barrier between my skin and my nickel silver bell.

As for a permanent solution, I ended up coating my mouthpiece in gold plating. In addition, I purchased a yellow brass bell to protect my hand from getting a reaction without the trouble of using Epiceram every time I went to play.

Part 2

The symptoms:

  • intense itching
  • burning or pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • papules
  • weeping blisters at the contact site
  • peeling or thickening of the skin in the case of chronic contact

Cited from the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation

https://www.ecarf.org/en/information-portal/allergies-overview/nickel-allergy/

Solutions

  • Diet can actually help those with a nickel allergy – foods like chocolate, whole grain, nuts, beans and dried peas are rich in nickel
  • Avoidance works for most brass players who get contact dermatitis
    • Change the material your instrument, parts of your instrument or mouthpiece are composed (delrin, gold plating, titanium plating and surgical grade stainless steel are available options)
    • Create a barrier between the parts of your instrument that your skin comes into contact with (hand grips, hand straps or gloves)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *