Skin Diseases: When Work Triggers Allergies

On Labour Day on 1 May, the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) is providing information on occupational dermatoses – allergy-induced skin diseases that develop on the job due to working conditions and contact with work materials.

Hands are most frequently affected

Occupational dermatoses are often manifestations of contact dermatitis that usually occur on the hands, since the hands are exposed most frequently to any irritating substances in the workplace. This most commonly results in irritant contact eczema, in which irritating substances damage the skin barrier, leading to the development of eczema. Once the skin barrier is damaged, there is a risk of sensitisation to a certain contact substance, which can then lead to allergic contact dermatitis.

Hairdressers (reaction to hair dyes), healthcare and geriatric care workers  (reaction to disinfectants, gloves or frequent hand washing) and metal workers (reaction to metalworking fluids) are particularly vulnerable to developing an allergic or irritant skin disease. Contact dermatitis also occurs frequently in people who work with solvents or plastics, such as painters, varnishers and tilers. People who expose their hands to a moist environment for longer periods of time at work are also at risk. In addition, occupational groups who work outdoors most of the day in strong sunlight, such as roofers and construction workers, have an increased risk of skin cancer.

Irritant or allergic contact dermatitis can produce a wide range of symptoms, from redness and scaling to blistering and cracking of the skin, usually accompanied by itching and burning. If possible, patients with atopic dermatitis should not perform jobs that can potentially damage the skin.

Best results through prevention and therapy

There is a wide range of advice and therapy currently available. The earlier it is determined that certain substances in the work environment are triggering an allergic reaction and the sooner a doctor is consulted, the better the chances are that the worker can stay on the job. The outlook is now positive even for chronic occupational dermatoses.

For occupational dermatoses, ECARF recommends that you:

  • Consult a dermatologist as soon as possible, preferably one who is specialised in occupational skin diseases
  • Work together to identify the allergy-triggering substance
  • Use alternative work substances if possible
  • Take special skin protection measures:
    • Wear special protective gloves
    • Apply a protective ointment onto skin before starting work
    • Cleanse the skin thoroughly after work
    • Apply regenerative skin care products
  • Speak to your company doctor and safety officers about ways to adapt the work Environment
  • Take advantage of the skin protection seminars and dermatology clinics in your area