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Skin Sense: Health care workers at risk of eczema
Published on Friday, 08 Jan 2010

A friend of mine who is a nurse has been feeling distressed lately by her deteriorating performance at work as a result of her eczema worsening.

Having developed the skin condition from wearing latex gloves that she puts on every day at work, she cannot stop scratching the rashes on her arms and face, and finds it difficult to concentrate at work.

Health care workers are most commonly affected by exogenous, or contact, eczema, which is caused by the inflammation of the skin as it comes into contact with an allergen or a harmful substance. People suffering from the condition find parts of their skin becoming red, dry and itchy, which may also swell, crack, blister and even bleed.

There are two types of contact eczema - allergic and irritant. The former, often triggered by the delayed reaction to allergens found in latex gloves, is commonly found among health care workers who frequently wear these gloves.

The need to wash their hands before and after coming into contact with patients also puts people in the profession at risk of developing irritant eczema, which is caused by the direct reaction to detergents or soap that contain organic solvents such as sodium lauryl sulphate. The disease can also result from water removing the protective layer of natural oils from the skin that makes the skin dry and chapped.

Putting on white vaseline or lotion after washing your hands will protect your skin.

About three-quarters of contact eczema can be characterised as irritant. However, allergic and irritant eczema are not mutually exclusive and the former can give rise to the latter. Contact eczema is curable by removing the offending substance from the environment.

Try not to scratch the affected areas if you have eczema. Neither should you clean the spots with hot water. Drink more water and avoid food that will aggravate the problem, including beef, lamb, seafood such as crab and prawn, onion, garlic, coffee and alcohol. If you have come into contact with something that may spark an allergic reaction, rinse your skin with running water.

You can also make a herbal liquid and apply it externally this way: 

Ingredients 30g climbing groundsel, 30g purslane, 30g rhubarb, 10g glabrous greenbrier, 10g sophora
Preparation Wash the ingredients and put them into a large pot. Add cold water until it is an inch above the surface of the ingredients. Soak for 15 minutes. Bring to the boil and let it cool. Wash the affected areas with the liquid.

Acupressure is another way to soothe symptoms of eczema. Make a fist and place the knuckles of both hands against the left and right sides of your spine, in line with the navel. The acupoints are located 1.5 inches and three inches from the spine respectively. Press the acupoints in a circular motion until you feel numb, sore and heavy. Doing so can help boost your immunity and improve your skin condition.

Contact urticaria is another skin problem that plagues medical professionals. Characterised by redness, a burning sensation and swelling, it can be found anywhere on the skin but it usually fades within 24 hours of development. Some health care workers are prone to the disease because they come into contact with hazardous substances in saliva, body fluids and faeces that may lead to swellings of the skin. 

Drinking herbal tea can help you keep the condition under control: 

For people with urticaria who feel cold easily and who have a preference for hot drinks 

Ingredients a red tea bag, 6g perilla, three slices of ginger
Preparation Place all ingredients in a cup (250ml) of freshly boiled water. Stir, allow it to stand and brew for five minutes. 

For people who often feel hot, have a sore throat and get agitated easily 

Ingredients 6g chrysanthemum, 6g mulberry, 10g honeysuckle
Preparation Rinse the chrysanthemum with hot water. Place all ingredients in a cup (250ml) of freshly boiled water. Stir, allow it to stand and brew for five minutes. 

For people with urticaria who feel tired easily, and who have a poor appetite and pale complexion

Ingredients 6g tangerine peel, 6g Chinese yam, 9g pearl barley
Preparation Place all ingredients in a cup (250ml) of freshly boiled water. Stir, allow it to stand and brew for 15 minutes.

Jenny Yeung Ming-ha is a registered Chinese medicine practitioner and deputy managing director of Jane Clare Professional Skin Centre