If you are washing your hands frequently or you work with
detergents, solvents, oils or acids, you’re at risk of contact dermatitis.
And in today’s environment, when you are encouraged to wash
your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds every time you handle objects
others might also have touched, you are likely to be washing your hands much
more frequently than you normally would.
Even before the current encouragement to thoroughly wash
your hands, if you worked in the health care industry, handled food, or worked
with your hands, you are most at risk of
occupational contact dermatitis (OCD).
It is important to note that OCD can affect people from any
type of work, including office work. Or indeed, it can affect you even if
you’re working from home.
So how do I know if I have OCD?
If you’ve got skin that’s red, dry, swollen, itchy and sore,
these are all signs of OCD, and it can have a significant impact on your
ability to do your job. OCD is one of the most
commonly reported and underestimated occupational diseases. Worldwide, it’s
estimated there are between 50 and 190 cases per 100,000 workers each year.
The two most common types of OCD are irritant contact dermatitis
and allergic contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis:
Approximately 75 per cent of OCD cases are irritant contact
dermatitis (ICD). ICD can develop quickly, from accidental exposure to a strong
irritant. Most cases, however, are caused by frequent exposure to a weak
irritant, such as water, soap or detergent, so anyone who regularly washes
their hands is at risk. These can dry and irritate the skin, eventually causing
an inflammatory reaction. Contact with a mild irritant may initially only cause
your skin to redden, but after continued exposure you may notice small lesions
or sores appearing on the reddened area. If you think the ICD is being caused
by the soap you are using at home, you may be able to reduce the recurrence by
changing your brand of soap.
Allergic contact dermatitis:
About 25 per cent of OCD cases are allergic contact
dermatitis (ACD). This is different from ICD as it involves your immune system
responding to a substance you’re working with. This allergic response can take days,
weeks or even years to develop. Allergens that commonly cause ACD include
cosmetic ingredients such as fragrances, metals in jewellery (like nickel),
latex, some textiles, and strong glues.
Treatment for OCD includes avoiding the cause where possible,
using protective clothing and gloves, and applying moisturising treatments that
cover your skin with a protective film.
Look out for dermatitis
Make sure you regularly check your skin for early signs of
dermatitis: dryness, itching and redness. This may develop into flaking,
scaling, cracks, swelling and blisters. If you’re at work, report any cases of
dermatitis to your employer who may refer you to an Occupational Health Doctor
or Nurse. If you’re at home, consult your doctor.
28 April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work.