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Skin Sense: Undo work-related harm through Chinese medicine
Jenny Yeung Ming-ha
update on Saturday, December 5, 2009
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This is the first in our series on job-related skin problems commonly found in Hong Kong, including those suffered by office workers, health care professionals and people who have to work outdoors on a regular basis. 

Have you ever had rash in or around your wrist or elbow in the form of a raised red patch that itches terribly and may even make your skin crack and bleed? 

If you have then you've probably had dermatitis, a condition that might have developed from you moving your arm around the desk as you manoeuvre the mouse. Friction between your arm and the desk could be the cause, as many office workers spend long hours at their desks every day. Over time this can develop into dermatitis.

Dermatitis is a common work-related skin disorder in Hong Kong, the symptoms of which include redness, dryness, itching, swelling, blistering and bleeding.

Many people in Hong Kong suffer from skin disorders that can be attributed entirely or partially to their work. Some of us may come into contact with or even immerse parts of our bodies in hazardous agents, including strong acidic or alkaline chemicals such as bleach. Some health care professionals may develop skin allergies from wearing latex gloves or frequently washing their hands.

Others, meanwhile, may come into contact with contaminated tools and surfaces such as workbenches or clothing as well as air-transmitted contaminants ranging from dust in the office to bacteria in a laboratory. Most job-related skin diseases are confined to our hands and forearms, or body parts that most often come into contact with harmful substances.

The diagnosis and treatment of skin problems in traditional Chinese medicine is based on the principle of Yin and Yang, a pair of philosophical concepts manifested in all things in nature. In identifying the causes of a particular problem, Chinese medicine practitioners look at whether the balance between Yin and Yang has been upset by the internal conditions of an individual, such as the lifestyle and working habits, and external factors such as the living environment and the weather.

It is believed that stress, an irregular lifestyle, mood disorders such as depression and loss of temper, as well as abnormally hot and humid weather can result in an imbalance between Yin and Yang. In other words, our immune system tends to be weaker under these circumstances, which makes us more vulnerable to skin diseases.

In treating skin problems, Chinese medicine practitioners seek to achieve or restore the harmony between Yin and Yang. There can be several types of treatment, which should be tailor-made to address the mental and physical state of each patient. Options of treatment include acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping and herbal medicine that can be taken orally or applied externally. In certain situations Chinese medicine practitioners may advise patients not to eat particular foods. 

People with an allergy should avoid eating beef, lamb, seafood, sweets and cold food. In Chinese medicine, beef, lamb and seafood contain a type of protein that easily triggers allergic reactions. Sweets and cold food undermine the function of the digestive system and weaken immunity. In the case of dermatitis, the condition reflects a lack of Yin. Apart from applying herbal medicine to the affected areas, drinking honey will help restore Yin to the body and boost skin immunity.

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

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