Occupational skin disorders in homemakers

Author: Brian Wu, MD candidate, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, USA. DermNet New Zealand Editor in Chief: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. Copy editor: Maria McGivern. March 2017.

Introduction

Millions of women globally are employed as homemakers, housewives or stay-at-home mothers, and are prone to skin disorders as a result of their work in the home.

While increasingly some men are also homemakers, househusbands and stay-at-home fathers, women employed in the home have historically done more wet work (eg, cleaning, washing) than men and have tended to suffer more from a cumulative irritant contact dermatitis of the hands caused by wet work. Housewife’s hand dermatitis (hand eczema), is one of the most frequent reasons for a homemaker to visit a dermatologist.

Why are homemakers particularly at risk of skin disorders?

Homemakers are prone to skin problems because of:

Understanding occupational skin disorders

The terms occupational skin disorder or occupational skin disease are used to refer to dermatological conditions that develop or worsen due to the nature of a person’s work. Skin disorders are believed to account for 40–70% of all occupational diseases. Skin disorders occur when the natural defences of the skin are compromised by mechanical, chemical or biological agents, leaving the skin more vulnerable to infections and the breakdown of the skin barrier.

Occupational skin disorders in homemakers

Skin problems arising in homemakers include:

Housewife’s hand dermatitis

Housewife’s hand dermatitis was so named due to the large number of homemakers who suffer from hand dermatitis due to both irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. It has been classified into acute ‘wet’ and chronic ‘dry’ types.

Mechanical injuries

Mechanical injuries in homemakers may include minor abrasions and cuts, often associated with scrubbing floors or contact with other rough surfaces.

Infections

Assessing the risks

Since the home environment is not a ‘workplace’ in the traditional sense, safety at home is up to the individual homemaker. Factors to consider include:

Personal protective equipment

The most important piece of personal protective equipment for homemakers should be gloves, preferably of a non-latex type to avoid possible sensitisation to latex. If working with volatile/airborne chemicals, protective aprons and masks or goggles should also be considered.

Hand care advice for homemakers

Good hand care can help to prevent hand dermatitis or treat it once it has developed. Tips include:

Diagnosing and treating occupational skin disorders

The diagnosis of an occupational skin disorder should include:

The treatment of an occupational skin disorder can include:

Related information

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