Systemic nickel allergy syndrome: epidemiological data from four Italian allergy units

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. Jan-Mar 2014;27(1):131-6. doi: 10.1177/039463201402700118.


The prevalence of nickel hyper-sensitivity varies widely in different countries, nevertheless it is the leading cause of contact dermatitis. The presence of nickel in the diet (mainly plant foods) in some nickel-sensitive subjects can provoke/aggravate eczema and systemic contact dermatitis as well as cause extra-cutaneous symptoms (respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurological). These symptoms, correlated to the ingestion of nickel-containing foods and beverages, in nickel patch test positive individuals, defines the so called Systemic Nickel Allergy Syndrome (SNAS), a condition successfully treated by oral desensitization. Although numerous studies have investigated the prevalence of contact nickel allergy or addressed the relationship between nickel intake and onset of systemic symptoms, to our knowledge no epidemiological studies have attempted to estimate the prevalence of SNAS. Therefore, we decided to evaluate consecutive patients (1,696), afferent to four allergy units in Sicily, a region of southern Italy, from October 2010 to March 2011. SNAS was confirmed in 98 patients (5.78 percent) of the 1,696 studied, suggesting that this clinical entity may be an emergent allergological condition rather than an occasional finding. The most common symptoms complained of in our population were cutaneous (51 patients), gastrointestinal (87 patients) and other systemic clinical manifestations (37 patients). Furthermore, 16 out of the 98 SNAS patients (16.3 percent) presented IgE-mediated food allergy with a statistically significant association (X2=16.950; P<0.0001), therefore suggesting underlying cross-facilitating pathways. These findings need confirmation on wider populations but may help allergists to suspect, during common clinical practice, that cutaneous and extra-cutaneous symptoms may be referred to nickel intake and deserve specific in-depth investigation.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / epidemiology
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Nickel / adverse effects*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Nickel