Hand Dermatitis in Health Care: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention.
by Joe Johnson, on May 7,2020
Expert advice tells you to wash your hands frequently to maintain proper hygiene. Unfortunately, without a focus on skin health, this practice may lead to hand dermatitis and an increased risk of spreading pathogens. Hand dermatitis is defined as a condition where skin becomes dehydrated, abraded and cracked from repeated contact with triggering substances. Affected individuals may feel hotness, soreness or sensitivity in their hands. They may also notice redness, blisters or swelling.
This issue disproportionately affects healthcare professionals, as they must frequently wash their hands along with wearing sterile gloves during the course of their daily activities. In fact, one survey of nurses shows that up to 85% experienced some form of hand irritation during the course of their careers.
Hand dermatitis that is a direct result of your work environment is also known as occupational contact dermatitis (OCD), and it makes up 90% of all workplace skin diseases. Occupational contact dermatitis can be further categorized into two groups: Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) and Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). ICD is the result of consistent contact with substances that can be as simple as water, soaps and detergents. ACD is the response from an acute sensitivity to a given material, such as latex or rubber.
Historically, latex gloves have been major contributor to dermatitis in individuals. Adverse reactions to the proteins found in natural rubber latex prompted the adoption of additional glove types, including vinyl and nitrile. While ACD is curtailed with these non-latex options, ICD is still a likely result due to the need to wash hands in between glove use. Furthermore, since all gloves, regardless of material, trap heat and moisture, simply wearing a glove can exacerbate existing dermatitis.
Hand Sanitizer Risks
While very popular, antiseptic and antibacterial hand sanitizers often use alcohol as a base, making them extremely dehydrating when compared to water and soap. Many facilities are adopting sanitizer dispensers as an alternative to traditional hand washing. In the interest of hygiene, if these are the only option, you should utilize them. However, the requirement to moisturize hands is even more critical than with a manual hand wash.
Methods for Avoiding Hand Dermatitis
Combating all forms of hand dermatitis is dependent upon following proper protocols for dermal care both during and after washing. Washing your hands with water and soap is the least damaging method of cleaning, and to dry your hands, lightly pat them with a disposable paper towel or tissue. It is also recommended to avoid hand dryers, as they subject your hands to extreme heat and high velocity air that expedites the dehydration of your skin.
Throughout the day you should be moisturizing to fight back against the drying effects of a hand hygiene event. We recommend using the 4x4 method: Moisturize at least 4 times a day around every 4 hours (E.g. 8am, 12pm, 4pm, 8pm). This is not just for the comfort and appearance, but also to prevent the buildup of pathogens that can collect in the cracked areas of your hands.
In fact, staphylococcus is a common infection that can lurk in these damaged regions. To prevent this from developing, individuals should carry a small container of moisturizer so that rapid rehydration can be effected regardless of how many times you wash your hands during a workday.