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What is Occupational Dermatitis?

By Sarah Sullins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Occupational dermatitis is eczema that has developed because of something in the workplace. The most common type of this kind of eczema is contact dermatitis. It develops when the skin comes into contact with either an allergen or an irritant. These problems occur most commonly with prolonged exposure, or when the skin is broken and unable to withstand a specific irritant.

The two most common types of contact occupational dermatitis are irritant contact and allergen contact. Those caused by irritants occur more often. In this condition, the skin reaction may occur immediately or over time. The amount of time it takes for a reaction to occur will usually depend on the specific substance that causes the problem.

Allergic contact dermatitis is the skin’s response to a specific agent that it has come into contact with. The body creates antibodies that attempt to get rid of the problem, causing an allergic reaction. If this is severe, medical attention may be required.

Occupational dermatitis typically occurs on the hands, arms, and face. Symptoms vary, depending on the substance causing the problem, but may include dry skin, chapped skin, redness, scaliness, blisters, ulcers, cracks in the skin, raw skin, and swelling. A person might also experience thickness of the skin, burning, itching, stinging, and skin that is very irritated.

Anyone who comes into contact with the same irritant over and over again may develop occupational dermatitis. Even mild products used for long periods of time can cause problems. Particles in the air can become trapped beneath clothes, pressing up against the skin and causing irritation.

People with certain types of occupations are more at risk for developing occupational dermatitis. These include housekeepers, roofers, medical workers, hairdressers, bricklayers, janitors, and maids. Bartenders, bakers, and cooks are also at risk for getting this type of skin condition. Development of occupational dermatitis may also be determined by other factors. People of a certain age as well as women and those who are already susceptible to eczema may be more at risk.

Those who are continually exposed to irritants may develop allergic reactions to those substances. Without treatment, occupational dermatitis will continue. Over time, even the slightest bit of contact with an irritant may trigger a severe case of eczema.

Prevention may help to reduce the risk of getting occupational dermatitis. Washing hands thoroughly, wearing latex- and powder-free gloves, and protecting the skin whenever possible may work to avoid reactions. Staying away from known irritants and allergens can also help a person avoid this type of skin condition in the workplace.

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Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Aug 08, 2012

My dad also has occupational dermatitis. He's a surgical nurse.

He says that his dermatitis is not from chemicals but from washing his hands too much. People who work at hospitals have to pay close attention to hygiene, especially in such a sensitive area as surgery. Just like the surgeons, my dad has to do intensive washing and cleaning of his hands before entering the operation room.

The bad part is that his dermatitis never gets better because he can't take off from work. It's gotten so bad now that he has red, painful bumps on his hands and wrists. It's so unfortunate that health workers have to deal with dermatitis in order to do their job correctly.

By ZipLine — On Aug 07, 2012

@fify-- You would be surprised how many housekeepers continue to use cleansing products without gloves. I see them all the time when I stay at hotels.

I also noticed last week that hair stylists don't always wear gloves when they're dyeing and highlighting hair. I had my hair dyed at the salon last week and my hair stylist only wore a glove on one hand. And he continued to touch my hair which was covered in dye with his bare hand.

I could see that he did this all the time because his nails had turned black from having touched dye so much. He's going to need dermatitis treatment in the future too.

By fify — On Aug 06, 2012

My grandmother worked as a housekeeper for many years. She now has severe dermatitis because of the cleaning products her skin came into contact with over the years.

I know that housekeepers now pay more attention to wearing gloves and protective clothing. But in the past, it was not as common. My grandmother used to clean businesses and homes with bare hands. All those chemicals took a toll on her skin and even though it has been many years since she retired, she's still suffering from dermatitis.

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