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01-09-2011 | Article

Hand eczema is common and often severe in hospital nurses


Free abstract

MedWire News: Hand eczema is reported by around a quarter of all hospital nurses, many of whom experience severe forms which interfere with work, mood, social activities and sleep, study results show.

Lead author of the study Nai-Ming Luk (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and colleagues say nurses should receive education on hand protection or be offered counselling on the condition.

Hand eczema can be caused by either a natural tendency to develop certain allergies - sometimes refer to as atopy - or contact with external irritants or allergens, or a combination of the two factors. Hand eczema is a common occupational skin disease and workers at risk include bakers, hairdressers, mechanics, and nurses.

"Owing to the nature of their job, nurses have to wash their hands frequently, have frequent contact with detergents and disinfectants during work, and wear protective synthetic/natural rubber gloves for prolonged periods of time," Luk and colleagues comment in the journal Contact Dermatitis.

Previous studies have suggested that 18% to 57% of all nurses develop hand eczema. This wide range could reflect differences in nursing practices, study methods, or subspecialty fields of nursing.

Noting that no such studies of hand eczema prevalence have been conducted among nurses working in Hong Kong, Luk et al asked 724 nurses at their hospital to complete a self-report questionnaire on their experience of the condition.

This included questions on the duration and frequency of hand eczema symptoms, its psychosocial effects, any family or personal history of atopy (indicated by conditions such as hay fever and rash occurrence), and work-related questions such as hand washing.

In total, 160 (22.1%) nurses reported having hand eczema, the majority of whom (91.2%) believed that it was job-related.

Of those who reported having hand eczema, only 12 (7.5%) reported having mild hand eczema, while 77 (48.1%) had moderate and 71 (44.4%) had severe symptoms.

Despite the high number of moderate/severe cases, only 13 (8.1%) nurses had taken sick leave in the previous year, and 21 (13.1%) had considered changing their job because of hand eczema.

More than 20% of respondents with hand eczema claimed that it had a moderate to large effect on their occupational work, housework, mood, sleep, and social activities.

Generally though, it did not interfere with sports activities, hobbies, travel, interpersonal relationships, and sex life.

Nurses who washed their hands more than 20 times a day were more likely than those who washed less often to report hand eczema. Likewise, those with a personal and family history of atopy were more likely to have hand eczema than those with no such history.

"The results of this study suggest that hand eczema is an important problem for nurses and that preventive measures should be emphasized," Luk et al comment.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Andrew Czyzewski