Metal allergies are more common than many think, with up to 15% of the population sensitive to one or more metals. Metal allergies can be as mild as a slight dermatitis but can be as severe as an eczematous eruption in people sensitive to high metal containing foods. The metal allergy develops when particular immune cells recognize metals as foreign and begin releasing inflammatory and destructive chemical signals (cytokines) around the metal. People commonly note an itchy and painful rash on skin that is in contact with earrings, rings, or even the metal button on a pair of pants.
Of particular concern for some people is the relationship between their metal allergy, and metal surgical implants whether they be orthopedic (knees and hips), dental, or even cardiac. There have been numerous case series showing increased failure rates of orthopedic implants among metal allergic patients compared to patients without metal allergies. Cardiac stents come with warnings in their package inserts not to use in patients who are allergic to any of the metal components, and some studies have shown an increased rate of stent failure in metal hypersensitive patients.
One way to protect from poor outcomes when it comes to metal implants is to have an allergy evaluation prior to surgery. Sensitivity to metals are discovered through two procedures: One is a blood test called a lymphocyte transformation tests, and the other is a simple dermal patch test. The results from both of these tests can then help guide the surgeon pick the proper metal containing implant.
If you are concerned that you may have a metal allergy or have plans to receive a prosthetic that may contain metal, make sure you set up an appointment to receive a metal allergy test.