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Why Do Nurses Have a High Risk of Developing Hand Eczema?

Higher Education Articles August 28, 2013

Nurses have been found to have a higher incidence of hand eczema than the overall population. There are several different factors that can increase the risk of developing hand eczema in this profession. However, while they are at greater risk, there are also several steps nurses can take to minimize their chances of developing hand eczema. Finally, if a nurse does develop it, there are ways to treat it and to prevent further occurrences.


Hand eczema is a rather common condition that does affect up to 10 percent of the general population – not just nurses. There are both genetic and environmental factors that can lead to a person developing hand eczema. Some people are simply more prone than others to developing this uncomfortable condition. However, other people – such as nurses – are more likely to develop a case because their hands are frequently exposed to irritating chemicals and cleansers. The symptoms of hand eczema include redness, itching or pain in the skin and dryness to the point that the skin actually begins peeling and flaking. There may also be painful cracks or blisters on the hands.

Nurses and Eczema

Nurses develop hand eczema at a rate of nearly twice that of the general population. In fact, an average one in four nurses have the condition. Up to 57 percent of all nurses will develop hand eczema at some point. There are several reasons for this. In their line of work, nurses need to wash their hands frequently. This means that they have a great deal of contact with various disinfectants and cleansers, and must wear protective gloves for long periods of time. Eventually, the overexposure of the hands to those conditions can lead to hand eczema. Although this is not a contagious condition, it can be very annoying to those suffering from it.

Certain specializations within the overall nursing field can have higher incidences of nurses eczema than others. For example, nurses who work in surgical, geriatric, obstetric or pediatric departments, as well as those who work in internal medicine, are at a particularly high risk of developing the condition due to the nature of their specific work. Because the odds of a nurse developing eczema can vary so widely, it has been suggested that differences in nursing practices and training could account for this variation. Further education in specific practices to prevent hand eczema could help lower the rate of incidence for nurses of all types.


There are a variety of steps nurses can take to help minimize the chances of developing a case of hand eczema. All of these, of course, should be cleared with hospital overseers before implementation. While reducing hand washing may lower a nurse’s risk of developing hand eczema, it could also increase the risk of infection of other diseases. Nurses should also make sure they do not have a natural rubber latex allergy; those who do will find their hands quickly irritated while wearing rubber gloves. If it is possible, using heavy duty vinyl or neoprene gloves with cotton glove liners when doing wet work can help protect the skin. The cotton gloves should be washed regularly, as well as the outer gloves, unless, of course, they are disposable. If possible, avoid the use of industrial hand cleaners or waterless antibacterial cleansers that are made with irritating ingredients. Again, check with hospital policy for guidelines. Keeping the work area as neat and clean as possible will help as well.

Fortunately, if a nurse does develop a case of hand eczema, there are ways to treat it. Seeing a doctor should be the first step. They can help determine what the irritant leading to the hand eczema is. They may prescribe a prescription to help clear the condition up as well. Using ordinary moisturizers may not help in all cases, but it is possible that it could in others. The best option is to choose a moisturizer that has few ingredients to lessen the chances that the moisturizer itself contains an irritant. Petroleum jelly can also be quite effective in helping treat this condition. If possible, it should be applied to the hands after washing and bathing. After the condition clears up, the individual affected can use the precautions mentioned earlier to try to prevent its return.

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