An eczema epidemic may have been caused by the current coronavirus pandemic due to the impact of excessive hand washing.
A new study, based on an audit of 200 hospital workers, showed that one in five suffering with a skin condition required time off work.
Six-out-of-10 seen for skin problems were found suffering irritant contact dermatitis – a form of the itchy, painful condition caused by friction, according to the study.
The report highlights the impact of PPE (personal protective equipment) and frequent hand hygiene on medical workers.
Co-lead author Dr Isha Narang, of University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation, said: “Wearing PPE for long periods can cause pressure and irritant effects on the skin and frequent handwashing with soap is drying; sometimes the effects can be bad enough to require time off work.
“As PPE and handwashing are essential methods of reducing the spread of Covid-19, it’s important to provide healthcare workers with advice and support in managing their skin.”
The findings are based on an audit of 200 hospital staff workers by the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy. They attended occupational skin disease clinics that had been specifically set up for the pandemic.
Almost one-in-five (18 per cent) required time off work, a virtual meeting of the British Association of Dermatologists was told.
The phenomenon is increasing the burden on the NHS during an extremely difficult time. Repeated and frequent exposure to water, soap, alcohol hand gel and wearing PPE for long periods can cause dry skin – leading to eczema.
The skin may start to itch, become sore and red, and develop small blisters, painful cracks – and break up. On average, participants washed their hands with soap and used alcohol hand gel around 23 times a day.
The duration for which PPE is worn, frequency of handwashing and use of alcohol hand gel were found to have an impact on the time off work required.
Longer duration of PPE wear during a shift, and more frequent handwashing tended to increase the amount of time off and using alcohol gel did not.
This was caused by the effects of masks – and seen in one-in-seven healthcare workers. Pressure injuries related to the facial coverings affected one-in-twenty.
Co-lead author Dr Harriet O’Neill, also of University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation, said: “For the face, protecting the skin with medical-grade silicon tape before donning tight-fitting masks, then rechecking the fit of the mask, may be helpful.
“Facial skin should be regularly moisturised when not at work. Where possible, regular breaks should be taken during shifts in which the PPE, such as masks, goggles and gloves, is removed to reduce the amount of contact time with the skin.
“We would also recommend that people dry their hands fully after washing by patting them dry, not rubbing them.
“Moisturisers (emollients) are an essential part of treating dermatitis and should be applied generously after handwashing and whenever the skin feels dry.
“In severe cases, or if an infection is suspected, further treatment from a GP or an Occupational Health doctor may be required.”
Coronavirus has led to a spike of skin cases amongst healthcare workers around the world.
A study of 542 front-line doctors and nurses in Hubei Province, China – the epicentre of the crisis – found almost all (97%) developed facial and hand rashes.
Holly Barber, a spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “PPE and frequent handwashing are essential for healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, the resulting skin irritation can cause enormous problems at work.
“Many members of the public will also have been affected by frequent handwashing, but this audit does give an indication of the spectrum of the issue for healthcare workers.
“Hopefully, these occupational skin disease clinics and skin management resources, such as the guidelines written by the British Society of Cutaneous Allergy, will help healthcare professionals manage their skin through this difficult period.”