It was the winter of 2001 when the rash first appeared. I know that because it started on my left hand and I’d recently become engaged. It was as if the ring and all its sweet intentions were boring itself into my being, changing my skin so even if I removed it, everyone would know I was his and he was mine. If it were just the appearance, I wouldn’t have minded, but the pain and itch would keep me awake at night, rubbing and clawing at it. My hand would swell up and burn with throbbing heat and disfiguring lumps of hardened skin. I joked that I must be allergic to marriage, or at least the ring, since it started shortly after getting engaged. Obviously, I didn’t believe that could actually be the case as I never removed my ring until my hand became too swollen to wear it.
Maybe I didn’t want to believe it. How could the ring that symbolized a lifetime of love and promises be causing me discomfort? For years, I lived with this cycle: put ring on, develop rash, take ring off as hand becomes too swollen, rash heals, put ring back on, repeat. You would think that I’d have considered that it might have been an allergy to the ring much sooner, but I didn’t, because when I experimented with taking my ring off for a while, I’d still get the rash on one or both of my hands. It seemed to come with my monthly cycle, and was usually the worst when the temperatures changed drastically. Since I live in the midwest where the temperature is always changing, the rash became just another annoying thing I dealt with without much thought.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I started lifting weights at the gym with my husband. I usually just stick to the cardio, but I wanted to start toning up so I asked him to be my trainer and show me the ropes in the intimidating weights room. I felt like such a weakling as I bench pressed the bar only, or when I had to get on a machine after a much stronger person and adjust the weights down to the lowest setting. I knew I would get stronger, though, and was excited to keep pushing. My husband has been getting noticeable results at the gym so I need to start doing whatever he’s doing.
I had just started seeing a little progress when, as if on queue, my annoying rash reappeared. This time, it was both hands evenly across the top of my palm and bottom of all my fingers. If I hadn’t been lifting weights, I might not have noticed that it’s exactly where I grip the bar. This couldn’t be a coincidence. So I went to Dr. Google and typed “weightlifting and eczema” and learned that I likely have something super common; a nickel allergy. Apparently, nickel allergy is the most common cause of dyshidrotic eczema, most commonly diagnosed in women between the ages of 20 and 40, and is often exacerbated by the female hormone, progesterone, which our bodies produce during the second half of our cycle.
In reading about how to prevent the eczema, I’ve learned that my wedding ring, which my husband smartly bought in white gold instead of the more pricey platinum, contains nickel. Wearing it on my hand 24/7 likely turned a mild nickel sensitivity into this eczema that I have now. Who knew my sweet husband has been slowly killing me all these years? Accidentally, of course. Falling further down the nickel allergy rabbit hole, I learned that nickel allergy is also the most common reason for wheat intolerance in non celiacs! You have no idea how bittersweet this little pearl of wisdom tasted.
For years, I’ve known that I break out in hives, get shaky and queasy, and can’t sleep (as well as other weird symptoms) whenever I eat wheat, which contains a high amount of nickel apparently. It’s good to know that it might not be all gluten and only wheat. That should make things a little easier, and it also means I might not have to be too strict about the wheat avoidance. I’ve still got some experimenting to do. Also, I need to start looking for a nickel-free wedding ring alternative.
To learn more about dyshidrotic eczema and nickel allergy, here are some helpful sites I’ve found; https://nationaleczema.org/decoding-dyshidrotic-eczema/