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Over-washing your hands can cause eczema

August 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Whether you're a painter, cook, hairdresser, nurse, or even a new mom washing your hands to wash away germs is a must. But some of us are scrubbing a bit too often, and it's leading to an increase in a common, but debilitating condition.As a physician's assistant, germs are something Gilbert Saenz is no stranger to.

"We're dealing with sick people on a daily basis. I'm in direct contact with the patients," said Saenz.

In between cases, Gilbert scrubs away bacteria with soap and water. Now, his hands are in need of some urgent care.

"Right now they are pretty dry and pretty red," said Saenz.

Gilbert has hand eczema. It's a condition characterized by red, swollen and dry, crusty skin. Gilbert isn't alone.

"I've noticed about a 25-percent increase in the number of patients with hand eczema in the past year," said dermatologist Sherry Novick Ingraham.

Studies show hand eczema is the most common occupational disease, and accounts for up to 80-percent of all cases of skin inflammation.

"Usually it's initiated by over-washing the hands. So every time we wash our hands we actually strip off our skin's protective barrier," said Dr. Ingraham.

Leaving it exposed to bacteria and germs. Another cause of eczema? Allergies.

"That can be an allergy to rubber in a glove. It can be an allergy to leather. It can be an allergy to metal," said Dr. Jason Reichenberg, American Academy of Dermatology.

Or even a chemical solvent. Dr. Reichenberg says eczema can lead to oozing cracks.

"I just had a patient recently who ended up hospitalized for this exact reason. Cracks can get infected. We live in world now where staph or MRSA is becoming more and more rampant," said Dr. Reichenberg.

Doctors say some patients have even had to miss work to heal their hands, so the best medicine is prevention.

"I suggest non-soap cleansers. So if the word soap is on the bottle I would toss that out," said Dr. Reichenberg.

Also, remember to moisturize often.

"I usually recommend a good replenishing cream like CeraVe. Every time they wash their hands they should re-apply a moisturizer," said Dr. Ingraham.

If you have a severe case, doctors may recommend steroid creams or prescription moisturizers. For a mild case of eczema, Dr. Reichenberg says simple petroleum jelly can act as a great skin barrier after washing your hands.

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