Stricter hand hygiene linked with increased dermatitis

Morgan Liotta

26/05/2020 2:50:33 PM

‘Wash your hands’ has become a more common refrain in recent times.

Soapy hands
Frequent handwashing with soap and water is one of the top recommended procedures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water – or alcohol-based sanitiser – is at the forefront of the most effective ways for people to protect themselves and others from spreading coronavirus.
But frequent handwashing has seen a rise in dermatitis and other skin conditions, such as itchy, red, irritated hands. It may generate various changes in skin texture and cause adverse dermatological symptoms, particularly in people with a history of similar conditions.
Even in normal time, healthcare workers are among the most prone to occupational dermatitis, considering how often they are required to wash their hands every day, as well as potential exposure to skin cleansers and detergents that can cause irritation.
But with handwashing a more frequent ritual during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are more affected people outside such occupations – and GPs are well placed to provide guidance on prevention and management of skin-related conditions, according to Dr Morton Rawlin, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Dermatology network.
He told newsGP he has seen an increase in skin irritations that can be directly linked to COVID-19 and increased hand-hygiene measures.
‘More hand dermatitis is occurring, essentially dry hands and nails,’ he said.
‘When this gets bad, hands can get very sore and raw, skin can start flaking and can sometimes crack.’
Coronavirus-related stress is now a key focus point, and in addition to the mental health conditions, Dr Rawlin says that stress can also bring out or flare up various types of dermatitis.
Regular GP consultations can assist with prevention and management of stress and related conditions; however, dermatitis flare-ups may be difficult to avoid given the current hand-hygiene procedures in place.
‘The more you wash and have your hands in soap and water and alcohol-based cleaners, the more dermatitis happens,’ Dr Rawlin said.
‘GPs can provide advice on improving the skin integrity, and when the condition is bad the skin may require prescription steroid creams and ointments at night.’
Skin conditions are manageable by applying a moisturiser immediately after washing hands or using a hand sanitiser to help prevent the development of skin irritation, Dr Rawlin recommends.
Hand drying is also an important process.
The World Health Organization also reminds communities that in the current global context, the potential occurrence of dermatological conditions should not diverge from strict hand-hygiene procedures.  
The RACGP’s Certificate of Primary Care Dermatology provides GPs and general practice registrars with a suite of resources to diagnose and optimally manage common skin conditions. More information is available on the college website.
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