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Infected earlobes could be blamed on nickel

By Dr. Rhonda Patt
Dr. Rhonda Patt
Dr. Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic and past president of the Charlotte Pediatric Society.
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Diedra Laird - CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Our daughter had her ears pierced a year ago. Recently, her earlobes have developed redness and scabs. The redness goes away when she stops wearing earrings but returns when she puts the earrings back in. We have cleaned her ears and earrings in hopes of preventing infection. What should we do?

In this scenario, I suspect contact dermatitis, when skin turns red and becomes inflamed when it comes in contact with certain substances. One of the most common aggravating substances is nickel. Nickel is found in trace amounts in nearly all types of jewelry. It's also common in metal buttons and belt buckles.

Nickel allergy can develop over time. Someone may have worn a certain piece of jewelry for years without any issue, but once a nickel allergy or sensitivity develops, the same piece of jewelry may cause a rash. Also, as jewelry ages, some of the metals break down and may lead to more nickel exposure.

Once a nickel allergy is suspected, earrings should be removed and not worn until the skin has healed. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment may help with the itching and redness. In the future, it is important to wear hypoallergenic jewelry. Platinum, nickel-free stainless steel, sterling silver and 24-karat yellow gold are the best options.

If the rash recurs while wearing nickel-free jewelry, then visit your health care provider.

Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic. Email living@charlotteobserver.com; put “pediatrician” in the subject line.
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