What is Dermatitis?
Dermatitis comes in several types, many of them are an allergic reaction to a specific allergen, such as latex. The types of dermatitis are classified according to their cause. When suffering from occupational dermatitis as a direct result of your work, it is likely that you suffer from ‘Contact Dermatitis’. Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin’s structure is damaged or its protective mechanisms become unbalanced through contact with external agents, such as a specific allergen or an irritating substance.
Contact dermatitis caused by irritating substances accounts for 80% of all Contact dermatitis cases. Depending on the type, dermatitis symptoms vary. Symptoms can range from skin rashes to bumpy rashes or can include blisters. Although each type of dermatitis has different symptoms, there are certain symptoms they share, including areas of redness, swelling, itching, burning, stinging and skin lesions and sometimes oozing and scarring. The NHS categorises contact dermatitis as a type of eczema.
When diagnosing occupational dermatitis, the area in which the symptoms appear can indicate the type. Although the symptoms of contact dermatitis usually appear at the site where the allergen came into contact with the skin. The NHS notes that 75% of contact dermatitis cases affect the hands.
Occupational dermatitis is not contagious, but if untreated it may spread to other parts of the body. Correct treatment at an early stage is essential.
What Causes Dermatitis?
There are two kinds of contact dermatitis, those caused by irritants and those caused by allergens.
Irritant Substances will affect any skin, whether healthy or already damaged in some manner. Medical treatment is effective and if contact is eliminated or reduced, the condition is unlikely to recur. However, repeated exposure to irritants can lead to long term skin damage. Some of the most common substances which cause irritant dermatitis are: chemicals, acids, oxidising agents, detergents, solvents, soaps, and bleach.
Sensitisers (Allergens), do not affect everyone they are exposed to. This form of occupational dermatitis does not appear on first contact with the substance but occurs only after subsequent contact, sometimes over prolonged periods e.g. years. Those affected eventually become sensitized (allergic) to that substance. One of the most common causes is latex; individuals with a latex allergy or who are sensitive to it, my use latex gloves or similar protective equipment repeatedly over time without realising the harm it may be causing.
In addition to contact substances, the work environment can have a profound impact on skin condition. Temperature, humidity and wind are all elements which, in more severe conditions, can affect the skin’s ability to protect itself. There are also a variety of products and substances that can damage the skin simply through their abrasive properties such as sand, plaster or cement which can scratch or damage the skin, leaving it vulnerable to the effects of irritants and allergens.
Diagnosing dermatitis is usually straight forward. When consulting with your GP, they will usually be able to diagnose contact dermatitis from the appearance of your skin and by asking about your symptoms. Your GP may ask when your dermatitis symptoms first appeared and what substances you have been in contact with to help identify the cause.
By taking the right preventative steps to minimise contact with damaging agents and adopting an appropriate skin safety regime, the risk of occupational dermatitis can be reduced. Avoiding the allergen or irritant altogether should prevent further symptoms. There are treatments available depending upon the severity of the condition; up to 8 in 10 people experience a partial improvement in their symptoms after treatment.
Contact dermatitis can cause the skin to become dry and to crack, so it is important to keep the skin moisturised to prevent further irritation. The best moisturisers are emollients, they prevent moisture loss from the skin and act as a protective barrier to keep irritants out. Emollients can be quite oily, so some choose to use creams which provide slightly less moisture and protection, whilst others use lotion which is least effective.
When the skin becomes particularly sore or inflamed, it may be necessary to resort to topical corticosteroids; a cream applied directly to the skin which will work to reduce inflammation. Where symptoms worsen, corticosteroid tablets may be prescribed and if the dermatitis symptoms get worse still, there are alternative treatments such as phototherapy, steroid-sparing immunosuppressant therapy and very rarely, alitretinoin.
If you have found yourself to be affected by occupational dermatitis, you will want to make a dermatitis claim. Whilst it may not fully restore your skin’s protective balance, it can provide you with compensation that you can use to better protect your hands in future, be it with emollients, latex-free gloves, or other tools and equipment.
The responsibility to prevent occupational dermatitis lies with your employer. The employer has a ‘duty of care’ to ensure that they provide a safe working environment and to carry out regular risk and safety assessments to ensure the safety of their employees. Providing detailed information on risk factors as well as protective equipment and clothing is crucial so that employees can protect themselves.
Where employers are found to be negligent in providing protection and safeguards for their employees, it is possible for the affected individuals to make a dermatitis compensation claim. So if you feel that your employer has not provided you with the care, information and equipment you required, and you suffered as a result, contact Beacon Law today.