Contact dermatitis

This is a condition that becomes more common as people get older. There are two types of contact dermatitis:

• Direct irritant contact dermatitis: due to physical damage to the skin caused by friction or certain chemicals. The rash occurs at the point of direct contact with theskin.
• Allergic contact: due to exposure to an allergen that sensitises the immune system resulting in an antibody response.

Further contact with the allergen causes an increasing level of antibody response with the rash developing on other parts of thebody other then the point of physical contact. Symptoms include scaling and thickening of the skin. Itching occurs where the skin has been in contact with a particular allergen such as cosmetics or nickel in jewellery or irritant such as soap or water. In two thirds of contact dermatitis cases the hands are involved because of sensitising agents the sufferer has encountered at work. Common allergens are nickel, chromate, formaldehyde, ethylene diamine, mercaptobenzothiazole, thiurams and plants.

People working in certain occupations are particularly prone to contact dermatitis. It is common in hairdressing, nursing, housework, car workers, interior decorators, building workers and workers who come in close proximity to chemicals. If you think that you may have this condition, you should seek medical advice. A diagnosis is reached by using patch testing (see Tests for eczema). Elimination of the offending allergens will resolve the problem. Certain items cause particular problems. These include latex, which is currently in widespread use in gloves, condoms and balloons and is posing a significant occupational hazard. Increasing numbers of healthcare workers are now encountering latex allergy in the course of their work. Prevention is the key to dealing with dermatitis. People with this allergy should try to avoid latex in the course of their work and in receiving treatment themselves from doctors and dentists who may use latex gloves. Keeping the hands clean, moisturising the skin after hand washing, first aid for cuts and scrapes and wearing gloves are all useful preventive measure in the workplace.


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