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Eczema at Work

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Working while living with eczema can be difficult, especially when the way you look affects your confidence and your physical discomfort makes even the smallest of tasks like typing or washing an ordeal. The following fact sheet highlights some of the issues surrounding eczema at work and offers guidelines towards making life more comfortable.

-- Contact dermatitis or eczema is the most common type of work related skin disease and affects 9% of people in the work place1

-- It can lead to extensive time off work and loss of earnings

-- Contact describes eczema that develops after direct contact with irritants or allergens in the environment

-- Irritant contact dermatitis usually develops after prolonged contact with substances that de-grease and irritate the skin i.e. detergents, engine oils, hair dyes and bleaches among many others

-- Allergic contact dermatitis results from a specific sensitivity or allergy to a material such as rubber or nickel

-- Patch tests are used to detect allergic contact dermatitis

-- A patch test involves having dilute forms of suspected allergens placed on the skin of the back. The patches are checked for a reaction at 48 and 96 hours. If a reaction has occurred the results are graded according to the severity of the reaction

-- Maintaining an everyday skincare routine at work is vital. This can involve regularly applying moisturisers (emollients), avoiding soap which can dry skin and contact with substances that can irritate the skin

-- In jobs where there is a lot of hand washing or contact with irritants, emollients should also be available to staff

-- Soap containing perfumes and colours can be drying and potentially irritating. A soap substitute or cleansing bar can be effective

-- Water on its own can also have a drying affect. Emollients may double as a soap substitute.

-- Paper towels can irritate the skin and hot air dryers may lead to excessive dryness

-- Eczema cases can be affected by extremes and changes in temperature. Avoidance of direct source of heat or a window (sunlight) is important

-- Air conditioning can dry the skin and become a source of irritation. Workplaces should be adequately ventilated to reduce further exposure to irritants and allergens

-- In industrial situations, the hands and forearms are most at risk. The use of proper gloves, coupled with a high standard of hygiene can minimise contact with substances

-- Regular washing and changing of gloves will help prevent and reduce contact with potential allergens or irritants

-- VDU screens may cause dust circulation and a dry atmosphere. A saucer of water on the desk can help reduce dryness

-- Paperwork should be filed as soon as possible and not allowed to sit and gather dust. If a task involves a lot of dust, wearing a pair of cotton gloves may help

-- Cigarette smoke can irritate some people's skin - a smokeless workplace is vital

-- The stress of starting a new job or other work-related pressures could cause eczema to flare up

-- For information relating to careers for people with eczema contact: Employment Medical Advisory Service (EMAS) of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which will be found under the HSE in the telephone directory

Career areas which could cause a flare up:

-Hairdressing: frequently putting hands in hot soapy water and handling hair colorants, bleaches, perm solutions etc

-Kitchen work: contact with juices of raw fruit and vegetables together with frequent hand washing and use of detergents

-Engineering or motor vehicle repair: contact with oils and coolants etc

-Patient care of any kind: frequent hand washing, complications of infections

-Animal handling: animal dander, hand washing

-Building work: contact with cement can cause irritation in some cases and allergy to chromate is common

-Work with adhesives containing cyanoacrylates and epoxy resins, both of which can cause allergic contact eczema


About the National Eczema Society
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