Contact dermatitis: skin rashes

by Dr. Chris Singh

Quite often I have drivers come into my clinic complaining of skin conditions such as rashes. By far the most common skin rash I see is called contact dermatitis.

Essentially, contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that is caused by direct contact with an irritating substance. Professional truck drivers often come into contact with commercial substances such as fuels, industrial solvents and dust, all of which may cause contact dermatitis.

The signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis can vary greatly from person to person.

However, most people experience a red rash or bumps along with moderate to severe itching. Others complain of dry, red patches which look similar to a burn. In severe cases, blisters containing clear fluid may develop. It is important to note that only the areas of skin which are exposed to the irritating substance react and develop a rash.

Generally, the rash or irritation does not spread to other parts of the body.

There are two categories of contact dermatitis. The first is called ‘irritant contact dermatitis.’ This type of dermatitis results from contact with a substance that irritates the skin. Substances such as soaps, bleach or strong chemicals may cause this type of dermatitis.

The second type of contact dermatitis is called ‘allergic contact dermatitis.’ This type of dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance.

Common causes of this type of dermatitis include certain rubbers, metals, dyes and weeds such as poison ivy.

When contact dermatitis occurs because a person is exposed to allergens or irritants on the job, it is called ‘occupational contact dermatitis.’

Frequent exposure to chemicals, dyes, cleaning agents as well as dust from things like cement, wood or paper can lead to contact dermatitis.

The good news is that contact dermatitis is not a life-threatening condition. However, it is important to see your doctor if it persists for too long or it becomes very painful.

In most cases, your doctor will be able to diagnose contact dermatitis after conducting a detailed history and physical exam. In rare cases your doctor may have to perform further testing to identify the particular substance that is causing the dermatitis.

The treatment for contact dermatitis is really quite simple.

First of all, it is important to identify and avoid the irritating substance.

Once this is done, the rash and irritation will usually disappear within a few weeks. In addition, topical creams such as hydrocortisone will help to reduce the redness and itching.

In severe cases, oral corticosteroids and antihistamines may be needed as well.

There are also a few things that you can do at home to help soothe the irritated area.

As hard as it may be, try to avoid scratching as much as possible. It may be necessary to cover the itchy area if you can’t keep from scratching.

Also, applying a cool wet compress over the affected area will also help to protect the skin and prevent scratching. Lastly, try to wear soft cotton clothing to help avoid irritation.

There are also a few precautions that you can take in order to prevent contact dermatitis. It is important to rinse your skin with water and mild soap if you came in contact with an irritating substance.

This practice can remove much of the substance and can greatly reduce the irritation. To add to this, wearing protective clothing or gloves to shield your skin is also very effective.

As you can see, contact dermatitis is more of an annoyance than a serious condition.

By applying some simple prevention strategies, you will be able to avoid many of the more serious symptoms. Until next month, drive safely.

Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.

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