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dermatitis symptoms

Dermatitis causes, symptoms and treatment

The term dermatitis, fundamentally, means inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis is the most common form of occupational disease and prevention rests very much on levels of personal hygiene, the use of a range of skin protection agents and health surveillance procedures where people may be exposed to the risk of contact with certain physical, chemical and biological agents. Non-infective dermatitis is a prescribed disease in relation to exposure to dust, liquid, vapour or other skin irritant.

The principal causes of dermatitis

Most case of dermatitis are exogenous in nature and are associated with exposure to a specific agent encountered at work. These agents can be classified as:

Physical factors

Exposure to heat can result in heat rash. Such rashes are common in people working on hot processes, such as foundry workers, metal workers and furnacemen. The secondary effects of burns should also be considered, together with possible exposure to ionising radiation.

Chemical agents

Contact with irritant and harmful chemical agents, such as acids, alkalis and sulphides of metals is, by far, the most common cause of dermatitis. The resistance of the skin to external irritants varies with age, sex, race, colour, diet and the state of health.

Biological agents

Many plants, in particular members of the Liliaceae and Primulaceae families, contain chemical compounds, exposure to which can lead to sensitivity to those compounds. Principal groups affected are nurserymen, florists and gardeners.

Similarly, exposure to certain woods, the dusts created during processing and the sap contained in, for instance, hardwoods, must be considered in the case of wood machinists, cabinet makers and carpenters. A small number of workers may become sensitized as a result of contact. Grain itch, barley itch, grocer’s itch and copra itch are varieties of dermatitis caused by mites found in these commodities. In the same way, scabies, may be contracted by people involved in animal handling, such as animal handlers, breeders and veterinary practitioners.

Endogenous dermatitis

Where there is clear evidence of endogenous dermatitis, the only solution may be the removal of the affected person from any future contact with the identified agent.

Dermatitis symptoms

There are different types of dermatitis with little different symptoms in different body parts.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis appears as rashes on body parts which came into contact with hazardous substances. The symptoms include skin irritation, allergic reaction, red rashes with burning sensation and skin blisters.

Atopic dermatitis

Red rashes with skin itching on inside the elbows, behind the knees and on neck. Continuous scratches may cause fluid leak and crust over.

Seborrheic dermatitis

In seborrheic dermatitis red skin, stubborn dandruff and scally patches appears on the body areas. Usually the symptoms appear on oily areas of the body including face, neck, chest and back.

Dermatitis may be exogenous, that is, caused by factors from outside the individual, such as acids and alkalis; or endogenous, namely, associated with factors from within the individual, such as allergies to a wide range of substances commonly encountered in everyday life.

In any consideration of the causes of dermatitis, therefore, the question of individual susceptibility to:

  • specific substances encountered in the workplace or at home; and
  • certain foods such as fish.

should be considered. Similarly, individuals may become sensitized to a wide range of agents whereby even the slightest contact with same will produce some form of skin response. For some people, dermatitis is a classic manifestation of stress which can be caused by a variety of circumstances.


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