Patrick Osborn, Evening News Anchor

Allergic to Money? New UK Coins May Irritate Some

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Hemera/Thinkstock(LONDON) — Who doesn’t love money? A little jingle in your pocket usually brings a smile to the face, but two new coins in the United Kingdom might leave some people literally itching to get away from them.

The UK has decided to coat their 5p and 10p coins with nickel, a material that causes a skin reaction similar to that seen with poison ivy in some people.

Specifically, people who have a skin allergy to nickel may develop an allergic contact dermatitis when they come in contact with the metal. This means that handing the new coins could lead to a skin rash consisting of redness, swelling and itching for those unfortunate enough to have this allergy.

According to two dermatology experts in the U.K. who wrote a report appearing in BMJ online on Thursday, these people may even be at increased risk for hand eczema, a condition in which the palms become inflamed and covered in itchy, potentially painful blisters.

The coins’ composition is being changed as a cost-cutting measure, but the authors say the cost to treat those affected by allergic reactions might be steep. They contacted Britain’s HM Treasury asking for data on the amount of nickel that is released from the new coins onto the hands.

According to Dr. Danielle Greenblatt, co-author of the letter and specialist registrar in dermatology at the Guy’s and St. Thomas’s MHS Trust in London, the treasury admitted it did not have answers to her questions.

“There hasn’t been any research that I’m aware of on these new coins to show what effect they may have,” says Greenblatt.

Nickel is one of the most common skin irritants in the world. Five percent of men and 27 percent of women had a reaction to nickel in a skin patch allergy test performed in a 2007 Norwegian study of more than 1,200 people.

Nevertheless, nickel is currently used in coins around the world.  Typically it’s part of a mixture of metals, called an alloy, with nickel representing 5 to 25 percent. According to the U.S. Mint, the American nickel, dime and quarter are all composed of a copper-nickel alloy.

These new British coins are different since they would be coated in pure nickel rather than having the metal simply mixed in. This actually reduces the total amount of nickel in the coin, down to 2 or 3 percent, but it means that the entire surface of the coin — the part that comes into contact with the skin — would be made of nickel.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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