Nurses and Occupational Contact Dermatitis

Occupational contact dermatitis (OCD) accounts for approximately 90% of all occupational skin disease, and healthcare workers are one of the most commonly affected occupational groups. Because of the complex workplace environment, there is the potential for health care workers to be exposed to many irritants and allergens.  Among healthcare workers, nurses are particularly at risk of developing a work related skin condition, particularly irritant or allergic contact dermatitis.

 Contact dermatitis is caused by substances touching the skin.  These substances may be found at home or at work. OCD is diagnosed when the contact dermatitis is caused by work place exposures, or where a pre—existing skin condition is exacerbated by work.

The hands are commonly affected, although other exposed skin may be involved, such as the arms, face and neck.

There are two main types of contact dermatitis; irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) and allergic contact dermatitis (ACD).  In addition, nurses with pre-existing eczema may experience aggravation of their skin condition. Nurses are also at high risk of developing latex allergy.  It is not uncommon for nurses to have a combination of these diagnoses.  

Nurses are one of the occupational groups most frequently attending the Occupational Dermatology Clinic at the Skin & Cancer Foundation in Melbourne.  Data from this clinic indicates that 73% of nurses seen at the clinic are diagnosed with ICD and 44% with ACD and 12% having latex allergy, highlighting the existence of multiple diagnoses. Internationally, the findings are similar, with healthcare workers commonly rating in the top five high-risk occupations for OCD.

We have developed several resources about healthcare workers and contact dermatitis, click on the links below to view these:

Nurses and contact dermatitis: Healthcare workers and OCD

Skincare and healthcare workers: healthcare worker pdf scf

Healthcare workers and latex allergy: latex and nurses

What to do if a nurse develops hand dermatitis – flowchart: what to do when healthcare workers develop dermatitis flowchart