Occupational Skin Conditions in Healthcare: Impact and Prevention

Gloves allergy
Posted in: Healthcare

Through their profession, healthcare workers can run into a number of problems. In addition to the daily mental and emotional stress of working in the field, exposure to potentially serious skin conditions is common.

It is, therefore, important to understand these issues, their impact and ways to prevent them from developing or becoming worse. With everything they do, these essential workers shouldn’t have to take any form of skin condition home with them!

Occupational skin conditions

Three main occupational skin conditions that commonly affect healthcare workers are:

  1. Irritant contact dermatitisThis is not the result of an allergy. It is caused by exposure to glove powder and frequent handwashing with alcohols and chemicals. Symptoms include itchy, dry and irritated skin.
  2. Type IV allergy Also called allergic contact dermatitis, it features delayed hypersensitivity and is caused by chemical accelerators used in glove production. Symptoms include itching, rashes, blisters, burning and swollen skin.
  3. Type I allergy As the result of an allergic reaction, it can be immediate and is potentially life-threatening in the form of anaphylaxis. Symptoms include watery or itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, hives, welts, rashes, itching, swelling, breathing problems, chest tightness, swelling of throat/tongue, or death.

Impact on the healthcare role

At this point, you are perhaps wondering, ‘Can I or my staff work with dermatitis (allergic contact or irritant contact) or other allergic skin conditions?’ The short answer is it shouldn’t happen. Working with a form of dermatitis or a skin allergy can make the condition progressively worse with time and continued exposure to triggers.

These conditions range from a minor inconvenience to a life-threatening issue. Irritant contact dermatitis and type IV allergies, for example, may not seem like such a big deal since symptoms are usually only localised rashes and irritation to affected areas (usually healthcare workers’ hands). You may also think latex allergies are not that common. But you would be surprised. In fact, up to 17 per cent of healthcare workers are allergic to natural rubber latex, compared with less than 1% of the general population.

In light of this, I think it’s important for people to realise the extent to which this can impact the daily lives of healthcare personnel. I can recall a case in the UK where a surgeon had to cancel an entire day’s schedule because of a skin condition that worsened. And, in terms of more extreme cases, there have even been nurses and doctors who have had to change their careers (or at least stop practicing with gloves) because the skin conditions affecting their hands were too much of an interference.

Preventing skin breakdown

The role of education in preventing allergies and skin conditions should not be overlooked. It is important for those who use gloves or provide them for use to have an awareness of what it takes to prevent dermatitis and skin-related allergies in the workplace. While many are aware of latex allergies, very few know about type IV allergies to accelerators or irritant contact dermatitis. Education is, therefore, key because people who are aware of these conditions will know what symptoms to look out for while using products that pose these risks. It will also allow them to practice preventive measures to avoid experiencing these conditions in the first place. And the more people know, the better chance we have to reduce the occurrence in healthcare.

So how do nurses prevent skin breakdown? There is a lot of information available online that can help with preventing dermatitis in facilities. Here you can read a latex allergy guideline from the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. Additionally, all three skin issues are easy to treat and prevent. For example, latex-free gloves prevent latex allergies, accelerator-free gloves prevent type IV allergies, and gloves with moisturising technology (such as colloidal oatmeal or aloe vera) help prevent irritant contact dermatitis.


Medline is committed to preventing disruptions to the delivery of healthcare while helping staff keep safe. Our portfolio includes latex-free, accelerator-free, and moisturising options for both exam and surgical gloves. For more information, visit our knowledge base.

Joe Moriarty
Associate Product Manager Exam & Surgical Gloves, Medline Europe

Joe, originally from the Chicago area in Illinois, has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa, and has been living and working in the Netherlands for almost 5 years. He started out in Medline’s Flex Pool programme at the US-based headquarters, and later transitioned to working in the gloves division in Europe.

4 May 2022
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