Around 5% of men and 10% of women develop occupational eczema as a result of workplace exposures.
Occupational dermatitis is a term commonly used to describe dermatitis, or skin inflammation, that results from exposures to both irritants and allergens encountered in the workplace.
The people who are most at risk are those performing wet work. Surprisingly, water is the most common skin irritant! Wetting and drying of the hands is very irritating to the skin. Hairdressers, nurses, cleaners and mechanics are most commonly affected.
However, some chemicals cause allergic reactions which may result in more severe dermatitis. These include chromate in cement and leather, rubber chemicals in some gloves and epoxy resins, in glues and some floor finishings.
Understanding which jobs are associated with occupational dermatitis is important, so people in these occupations can be forewarned and take extra precautions.
In addition, people with a history of eczema, even as a baby but which has gone away, are more at risk of occupational dermatitis, and need to be aware to protect their skin.
Common symptoms of occupational dermatitis can include:
- dry, chapped skin, cracks or fissuring
As with all cases of broken skin there is a risk of infection complicating the initial problem.
Occupational dermatitis is a common condition but one that can significantly affect people's enjoyment of life, as it commonly affects the hands. If untreated, it can sometimes spread to other parts of the body, and become difficult to treat.
A dermatologist can particularly help through the process of making a diagnosis about what is causing the problem. Sometimes a form of allergy testing is necessary (patch testing). In addition, a dermatologist can offer a variety of early interventions that treat the problem and prevent complications.
Treatments for occupational dermatitis include:
- appropriate skin protection: use of the right gloves for the job
- the use of moisturising creams
- soap substitutes
- topical steroids
- antibiotics if there is secondary infection
Phototherapy (or light therapy) can also be effective in treating more serious cases of occupational dermatitis. The Skin and Cancer Foundation inc has also pioneered the use of Grenz rays, a superficial form of radiotherapy, to treat occupational hand dermatitis.