If you have rough, dry, chapped hands, you might be a nurse. And hospital nurses are more likely than other types of healthcare workers to have dermatitis that causes painful, even oozing open fissures. But there are ways to reduce the daily insults to your skin.
Hand washing — both before and after patient contact — is the most effective deterrent to transmission of viral and bacterial pathogens that lead to infections in hospital/healthcare settings. But if you are among the 85% of nurses who develops hand dermatitis as a result, then you may be suffering daily just to do your job.
Hand dermatitis often starts with atopic dermatitis first. Most nurses self-treat by reducing the number of times they wash or changing the products they use, or by putting on gloves to protect their hands — but these strategies don’t work and increase your risk of transmitting pathogens. In a French study, more than half of the nurses surveyed reported disregarding CDC recommendations to use hydroalcohol because they worried about skin damage. But it turns out that hydroalcohol gels are actually less damaging to the skin than detergent-based soaps because they are specially formulated with emollients designed to reduce skin irritation.
So what can you do to keep your hands feeling healthy and soft?
- Don’t use soap and water except when hands are visibly dirty or contaminated. Hydroalcohol handrubs are most effective to routinely decontaminate hands and less irritating than soaps.
- Do keep hand cream in your pocket and use it frequently throughout the day.
- Don’t use hot water to wash hands. Warm water and soap washes just fine.
- Do dry your hands thoroughly every time you wash. Wet hands transmit more pathogens and cause greater irritation. And paper towels are superior to air dryers, which can spread bacteria.
- Don’t use gloves to protect hands that are already irritated, as excess moisture can become trapped inside and worsen the condition.
- Do condition your hands at home and use gloves when washing dishes or using harsh chemicals.
- Make sure to treat atopic dermatitis as soon as you notice it. Any signs that your skin is red, cracking, or peeling are only likely to get worse.
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Last updated on 9/25/19.