At Risk of Contacting Dermatitis?

Throughout the world hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from contact dermatitis, and although the exact number is unknown an article released by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that the number of people affected in western industrial nations could range anywhere from 1% to 15% of the total population.

As you can imagine employers are feeling the brunt of thousands of dermatitis claims from employees that have suffered from contact dermatitis due to a lack of responsibility from their employer.

Although contact dermatitis can occur within any industry certain professionals find themselves at a much greater risk. Hairdressers and beauticians such as nail technicians are the frontrunners in developing dermatitis, being up to 17 times more likely than any other industry.

This is due to the different chemicals that they come into contact with throughout a working day. Mechanics and engineers also find themselves at risk due to the substances that they work with.

There are two types of contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis.
Allergic contact dermatitis is the result of direct contact with a substance.

Once sensitized the person will more than likely develop a permanent allergy and any further interaction with this substance will generally cause an outbreak. Allergic contact dermatitis generally starts to show symptoms 12 – 72 hours after exposure.

Irritant contact dermatitis is generally caused by a repeated exposure to a substance which aggravates the skin. Such irritants include, soaps, detergents and solvents.

People who develop dermatitis will often experience a number of problems in relation to the area of skin affected, these symptoms generally include :

  • Reddening – Weeping
  • Flaking – Blistering
  • Blistering – Swelling

These symptoms can often cause a large amount of pain and discomfort, which can even be serious enough to affect your working and home life. Even simple tasks such as washing the dishes or peeling potatoes can become incredibly painful.

As mentioned before dermatitis can occur within almost any industry. Working within any given industry carries risks, however a number of professions place employers at a greater risk due to the substances involved. An example of this would be a motor mechanic who on a daily basis works with oils, solvents, paints and vehicle fluids.

These chemicals often have an acidic or an alkaline Ph value. Substances with non-neutral Ph balances are known to cause discomfort to the body and can often be incredibly dangerous.

Due to the nature of dermatitis prevention is often relatively simple. Firstly you need to find the allergens or irritants responsible and avoid them as much as possible. Workers who wear the correct P.P.E (Personal protective equipment) find that although they have not completely negated the risk of dermatitis they have substantially reduced the chances of developing it.

If workers are unable to use P.P.E during the working day employers should think about changing the substances that employees are in contact with. On occasion P.P.E can account for the problem a few examples of this would be a mechanic having a reaction to the barrier cream that he is using on his hands. In this scenario a wise idea would be to stop the use of barrier cream immediately and switch to gloves. Another example of P.P.E causing a problem with employers would be the latex gloves used in hospitals. A large number of staff encountered problems due to an allergy to the latex in the gloves. This lead to multiple dermatitis claims pressed against the NHS and soon after a number of non latex gloves were available if needed.

The severity of the symptoms will often dictate the treatment needed. Emollients are creams and oils that help to soften/ smooth your skin these can be used when your symptoms are mild and include dry or cracked skin.

If symptoms persist or if your skin is inflamed and sore you may need to visit your local GP for a course of topical corticosteroids which can applied to the affected area and should show improvement within a few days. Employers should assist in this are they would be subject to dermatitis claims against them.