Allergic Reactions to Coins and Paper Money

Could you imagine being allergic to money? It sounds like a great excuse for not being able to find a job, being in debt or maybe even the reason why you can’t repay your friend the $50 you owe him.

To most people, having an allergy to money seems nothing more than an excuse⁠—and a bad one at that. Like something your teenage son would say when you asked him to mow the lawn to earn his allowance, right?

But what if a person were actually allergic to money? Not the act of making money (hard work), but the physical form of money⁠—coins or paper bills?

There are numerous reports (unconfirmed in the news and confirmed in the medical literature) of people having allergic reactions to money. Many reports include the development of rashes on the hands when handling money; symptoms of nasal allergies and asthma when handling large sums of paper money; and even a report of a life-threatening lung disease in a bank teller. While most likely a rare occurrence, it’s quite possible to experience a wide variety of allergic symptoms as a result of exposure to money, from a wide variety of different causes.

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Nickel Contact Dermatitis

Probably the most common allergic reaction to money is caused by the handling of coins made of nickel. This results in contact dermatitis on the hands. Nickel, the most common cause of contact dermatitis, is found in the U.S. Jefferson nickel, various Euro coins and probably other coins around the world. The €1 and €2 Euro coins are composed of nickel alloys that are predisposed to corrosion and release large amounts of nickel when they come in contact with human sweat.

While most people handling coins made of nickel are not touching the coins enough to cause significant nickel exposure, certain populations may have enough exposure to cause contact dermatitis. These include bankers, cashiers, coins collectors or even people who are in the habit of carrying coins in their pockets, which may release nickel and cause contact dermatitis on the upper thighs.

Treatment of this form of money allergy involves avoidance of prolonged contact with nickel coins and the use of topical steroids to treat the contact dermatitis.

Allergic Reactions Caused by Printing Ink

Paper money is printed with various types of inks, many of which are made from plant matter. While the U.S. Mint won’t reveal the process used to ink paper money because of anti-counterfeiting measures, it’s a good bet that these inks are made from plant gums such as tragacanth, carob, guar, Arabic, carrageenan, xanthan, and karaya. These plant gums are known to cause allergic reactions, which can easily be tested with allergy blood tests.

Handling large amounts of paper bills may result in the ink dust becoming aerosolized and breathed into the nose or lungs, resulting in allergic rhinitis, asthma and even hypersensitivity pneumonitis in certain people.

Treatment of this rare form of money allergy involves avoidance of exposure to large amounts of paper bills, treatment of the symptoms with appropriate medications and possibly a change in profession to one that doesn't demand handling large amounts of paper bills.

Irritant Dermatitis Caused by Paper Money

The handling of a large amount of paper money can cause irritant dermatitis on the hands, which isn’t actually caused by an allergic reaction. Counting large amounts of paper money can cause dryness and skin cracking on the thumb and index finger where the bills are touched. The rash is caused by the repeated contact with paper money, which wicks away moisture from the skin. For some people, this rash goes unnoticed, while for others it can result in itching, irritation and an unsightly rash.

Treatment of this relatively common condition includes topical steroids, moisturizers and the use of silicon finger guards to reduce contact.

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  • Kupeli E, Karnak D, Sak SD, Kayacan O. Hazards of the ‘Hard Cash’: Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis. Can Respir J. 2010;17(5):e102-105.
  • Lombardi C, Gargioni S, Dama G, Canonica GW, Passalacqua G. Euro Coins and Contact Dermatitis. Allergy. 2004;59(6):669-70.

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.