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Are You A Victim Of Occupational Eczema?

Aug 17, 2007
Skin diseases that are caused by contact with chemicals related to your work are called occupational skin diseases.

In order to diagnose these types of skin diseases, you will have to work closely with your dermatologist. You will need to pinpoint the condition first appearance and what triggers make it worse.

Occupational skin diseases may be furthered by irritants you are using at home. The most common occupational eczema include: allergic contact dermatitis, hives (contact urticaria), and irritant contact dermatitis.

What is allergic contact dermatitis?
Allergic contact dermatitis is not only common but has a huge list of potential suspects behind it. Allergens may be aromatic chemicals, caustic chemicals, metals, organic chemicals, plants, plant extracts or any combination of these. Haptens, simple chemicals that require a protein bond to become an antigen, are the most common culprits.

The immune system is a factor in allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), meaning that people who have weakened immune systems are more susceptible to ACD, which makes age a factor in diagnosis.

Depending on location and chronic qualities, the appearance of ACD varies. Most symptoms include: blisters (of all sizes), cracking, flaking, inflammation, papules, redness, and swelling. Common body areas for manifestation include: ears, face, feet, hands, and neck. Common culprits include:

Adhesives.
Beauty Products, including cosmetics, skin/hair care
Chemicals
Dyes
Jewelry
Latex based products
Plants (and plant derivatives)
Rubber based products

Typically, treatment of ACD includes: identifying the allergen and finding/following ways to avoid it which may include substitution of a different product. Topical medication in the form of corticosteroids will relieve symptoms.

What are Hives (contact urticaria)?

Hives can be caused by either allergens or caustic substances and can attack people with atopic dermatitis very easily. For example, a person who works at a cosmetics counter and is required to wear that product may have more trouble if they have atopic dermatitis. Treatment for this form of occupational eczema is the same as for allergic contact dermatitis.

What is irritant contact dermatitis?

Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common form of occupational eczema and affects exposed areas of skin (arms, face, hands, and neck). It can just bed a reddish patch of chapped skin or it can be as bad as skin ulcers. Itching is extreme and scratching seriously worsens the flare up.

An inherited overactive response to triggers is one cause longer life spans and more severe symptoms in patients with atopic dermatitis. These triggers can be temperature/precipitation, friction, chemical irritants and stress. The number of potential irritants is very large and on-the-job contact may be with one or more:

Adhesives/glues
Alkalis
Aromatic chemicals
Asphalt
Bacteria
Bathroom cleaning products
Chemical salts
Foods
Fungi
Gases
Glass fibers
Lubricants
Metals
Plants/derivatives
Soaps and detergents
Solvents
Tar

Irritant contact dermatitis is treated the same as allergic contact dermatitis, but the addition of exposure modification and protection are critical, as is educating the workers.

With any form of occupational eczema, it is as important to be aware of possible infections as it is with other forms of dermatitis. This is especially true for people who work in agriculture, food processing, food preparation (restaurants/cafeterias), health care, school systems, and veterinary medicine. The tendency of the skin to get broken open through scratching allows infection to attack your already deprived immune system with ease.

Consultation with a doctor is important for diagnosis. Skin infections, whether bacterial, fungal, or viral can mimic eczema but can be cured and may be contagious; eczema is not. Prompt treatment of these infections can lead to further complications and spread of the infection.

Other Occupational Skin Conditions

Acne: comedogenic products, such as theatrical cosmetics, industrial oils, cooking oils can cause acne. Comedogenic means that the pores are plugged with an oily substance, which becomes apparent through both black and white heads.

Apparel with rubber lining (such as hard hats and rubber straps for carrying tools) may also be comedogenic in some occupations.

Frictional dermatitis: this is caused by repetition in handling of necessary tools for the job. For example, a worker who sews the tags on blue jeans may get frictional dermatitis from the constant movement of the denim against her hands/arms.
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