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Olympic Medals

Gold, Silver and Bronze Allergies

Olympic Medals


  • Gold allergy was found to be present in up to 9% of patients with dermatitis who underwent allergy patchy testing.  Most of these individuals were women with rashes on the hands, face and eyelids.   About 1/3 of these patients also had nickel allergy and nearly 20% had cobalt allergy.  Gold allergy is called allergic contact dermatitis which means the skin reaction occurs where the gold jewelry contacted the skin.  The rash is very itchy, red and on occasion may have swelling and small blisters.  The symptoms usually begin about 6 to 24 hours after exposure.  If not treated, the skin may become dark and leathery, dry and cracked.  The skin test for diagnosing gold allergy is called patch testing and can be performed with the TRUE test at our office.  There are no needles or pain!


  • Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver.  The remaining ingredient is usually copper. The true incidence of silver allergy is not known and tests for silver are not routinely done. Silver has a long history of use in health care as it has antimicrobial activity.  It is used in burn ointments such as silver sulfadiazine (Silvadine) when combined with a sulfa drug.  It has been used in water purification, wound care, reconstructive orthopedic surgery, bone prostheses, cardiac devices, catheters and surgical devices.  Silver has low toxicity in humans, but if inhaled or ingested in large quantities as colloidal silver it can lead to deposition of silver metal or silver sulphide particles in the eyes (argyrosis), skin (argyria) or other organs (teeth, mouth, gums, nails).  While it is not fatal, it is cosmetically unpleasing with blue-gray to black staining of the skin and irreversible.


  • In addition to medals for the Olympics, bronze is very hard and was used to make tools, armor and weapons. In machining, it was eventually replaced by iron.  Bronze is an alloy containing 88% copper and 12% tin.  Other bronze alloys may contain varying levels of nickel, zinc, lead or bismuth.  Copper allergy is unusual and many reactions are likely due to a copper-nickel cross reactivity due to T cell lymphocytes as most patients with positive copper patch test also had nickel allergy.  For those patients with a positive copper patch test, most had low clinical relevance, meaning, no obvious reaction occurred.

At Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana, we support our Olympic teams and say “Go for the Gold!” we can deal with allergic reactions if they happen!

This information is solely for informational purposes and not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. 

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