Redness or dry skin on your hands or those of your employees may be more than a simple irritation. It could mark the beginning stages of contact dermatitis, a condition that afflicts an estimated 5 percent of men and 10 percent of women in the work force.
Occupational contact dermatitis stems from an allergic reaction or irritant to chemicals or other substances in the workplace, including extended exposure to water, detergent or wet work. Studies show allergic contact dermatitis accounts for about 20 percent all occupational dermatitis cases.
Hands are the most commonly affected, but other parts of the body, such as the arms, face and neck, also are susceptible. Severe cases can escalate to wearing away the top layers of skin, cracks, blisters and skin ulcers.
Common causes of work-related contact dermatitis include:
- Biological (plants, bacteria, animal hair)
- Physical (vibration, radiation)
- Mechanical (abrasions)
Diagnosing this condition often requires avoiding exposure and an analysis of possible causes at the place of work. Chronic conditions can be difficult to treat, especially if the offending substance is common at the person’s workplace.
Workers who display sensitivity to certain substances should avoid further exposure to the allergen. Aside from this commonsense approach, anti-inflammatory drugs, ointments with skin cleansers and additional barriers, such as protective gloves, can provide a measure of relief. Not all protective clothing resists all substances. Make sure you read the manufacturer's recommendations when using any product to protect the skin.
For more information on how to keep your work force healthy, call Saint Francis Medical Center’s Services to Business at 573-331-5825.