Contact Dermatitis

If you suffer from eczema, then you probably already know that controlling eczema triggers is an important component to controlling your condition. Many types of eczema can be controlled just by avoiding or limiting exposure to certain triggers. Depending on your trigger, it can be easy to control your exposure in your home, but what about work?  What if you need to be exposed to your eczema trigger in order to earn a living?

Occupational irritant contact dermatitis is a form of eczema that is triggered by exposure to an irritant in the work place. Contact dermatitis is typically red, inflamed, and itchy. It can also be quite painful. It normally occurs at the spot where the skin had direct contact with the irritant. However, it can spread from the initial point of contact, depending on how severe your exposure and reaction is.

Scientists have identified more than 3000 allergens and irritants that are known to cause eczema, but only 25 are these are to be blamed in most cases.  Most people typically have more than one trigger, but they are able to limit their exposure and prevent outbreaks. However, occupational irritant contact dermatitis is typically the result of one irritant which you become increasingly sensitized to while at work.

As you work and are exposed to the irritant you will find that your eczema reaction occurs more frequently and more severely. When you are first exposed, you may not have a reaction. However, people who are prone to contact dermatitis are believed to have a weakness in their skin structure. Therefore, the irritant slowly exploits this weakness and begins degrading your skin. Your immune system recognizes this as an attack and releases chemicals into your system to counteract the damage being done by the irritant. Unfortunately, a side affect of this immune attack is eczema at the point of contact. The more you are exposed to the irritant, the more quickly and severely your immune system will react. This is called sensitization and it is why your eczema will become increasingly severe the more you are exposed to the irritant.

It is very likely that the occupational irritant is not one of the 25 common triggers.  However, you should be able to identify your trigger without too much difficulty. This is especially so if you work around chemicals, hazardous materials, unusual metals, or if there is something that regularly touches that portion of your skin. For example, woodworkers typically have a reaction to certain varnishes. Maids and cleaning professionals may be irritated by cleaning products or by rubber gloves. Beauty professionals are often irritated by nail varnish.
If you are suffering from an occupational eczema your first step should be to talk to your employer or employer’s safety representative. It is very likely that your employer has addressed this issue before and will have protection recommendations best suited for your situation. They may also have special protective gear to help you or may offer to pay for protective gear. No matter what, your employer should be aware of your situation.

Your next steps are to protect yourself. Good hygiene, including regular washing all exposed areas of your skin, is your first line of defense to remove irritants from the surface of your skin. Also, try to cover your skin with gloves, aprons, hats, goggles, and other protective gear. Keep in mind that many people are irritated by rubber, so be careful if you are using rubber gloves for protection. Next, you should try to enhance your skin’s natural barriers by applying lotions, such as oatmeal, aloe vera, or zinc, regularly.

Once you actually have an outbreak, your treatment regiment is no different than normal irritant contact dermatitis. You will probably want to use a blend of medical and natural therapies to find relief. You should also look into long term natural treatments that help you detoxify your system in order to strengthen both your immune system and skin.

It is unfair that in order to earn a living you must be exposed to the irritants or allergens causing your occupational contact dermatitis. The important things to remember when trying to control and prevent you condition is to keep your employer informed, protect your skin, and try to keep yourself otherwise healthy. If you identify your trigger, take extra precautions, and use a healthy treatment regiment then you should find your eczema occurs less frequently and heals more quickly.