Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes in contact with a substance that causes an allergic reaction. At times, this condition may also be triggered in the work environment. This is because many professions involve coming into contact with chemicals that can activate an allergic reaction. A highly irritant substance is known as a corrosive. Irritant dermatitis makes up for 80% of contact dermatitis while the other 20% is allergic contact dermatitis. Each year in Italy, over 600 cases of occupational contact dermatitis are reported. The symptoms and seriousness of the condition vary widely. Symptoms typically begin with redness and irritation. In recent years, 172 new allergens have been discovered, of which 119 are related the occupational dermatitis.
Newly discovered allergens
According to the Italian Society of Allergological, Occupational and Environmental Dermatology (SIDAPA), each year around 20 new allergens are discovered. 40% are common substances that are found in the workplace and they typically fall into the cosmetics category.
“With the advancing growth of the chemical industry, this trend is likely to continue,” says Professor Marcello Monti, Senior Dermatology Consultant at Humanitas Hospital. “Among the thousands of new chemical compounds produced by the chemical industry and then put on the market – he continues – some may be sensitizing or contain allergens. In fact, for about 10 years now, we have not been able to tell if a new chemical compound causes an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions emerge only after an individual has come into contact with irritants and has reported episodes of dermatitis” says the professor.
How can allergic contact dermatitis be recognized?
“Allergic contact dermatitis usually causes a red rash that itches. In order to receive an accurate diagnosis and identify the allergen responsible for the rash, it is important for the patient to consult with a dermatologist. A patch test (or contact allergy testing) is commonly used to determine whether a particular substance causes allergic inflammation of a patient’s skin. Thanks to this method and others, dermatitis can be treated before becoming chronic” explains Professor Monti.
Allergic contact dermatitis & at-risk jobs
Among the most common products that contribute to irritation include cosmetics such as: hair dye, nail polish, depilatory waxes, and many others. Individuals who are considered “at-risk” of occupational dermatitis include carpenters, plumbers, tobacconists, and health care personnel. Due to their surroundings, they are more prone to irritant substances that come into contact with the skin’s cells and tissues, thus producing skin damage.
“Individuals who work directly with chemicals are required to wear protective clothing (goggles, gowns, face shields) so that they are not exposed to hazards in the workplace. Those who do not wear such clothing are often considered most vulnerable to developing occupational contact dermatitis” concludes Professor Monti.
Occupational contact dermatitis is indicated if:
- The condition improves away from work and relapses on return
- The rash is mainly on the hands and skin that is exposed
- More than one individual is affected in the same work environment or while handling the same materials.