Eczema symptoms can be distracting on the job. Planning ahead for the day, actively managing stress, and being mindful of work-related triggers are all ways you can help manage eczema in the workplace.
Eczema is an umbrella term for a group of inflammatory skin conditions that cause symptoms such as dry skin, redness, and intense itching. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and the
Itching in eczema can be intense, irresistible, and unbearable. It can pull your focus away from what you’re doing until you stop everything to satisfy the urge to scratch your skin. Certain triggers in the workplace can make your itching or other eczema symptoms worse.
In addition to interrupting your workflow, eczema is often stigmatized and misunderstood, which can create anxiety and may make you feel self-conscious on the job.
Learning how to plan for your work day with eczema and understanding how to adjust for work-related triggers can help improve your occupational quality of life.
Eczema triggers are factors that bring on your symptoms or make existing symptoms worse.
As a condition of underlying inflammation and skin barrier dysfunction, eczema may be exacerbated by a variety of factors in the workplace, such as stress, temperature, work clothes, and irritants in the air or on your skin.
When you’re stressed at work, your body initiates your stress response, a cascade of physiological processes intended to help you respond to adversity. Inflammation is a part of the stress response.
If you live with a chronic inflammatory condition such as eczema, stress compounds the inflammation already present, worsening or causing more symptoms.
By managing your stress levels before, during, and after work, you may be able to prevent stress-related itch attacks on the job.
When you’re not at work, options for stress management include:
- relaxation methods, such as deep breathing
- mind-body practices, such as tai chi
- spending time with pets
If you’re at work and need to keep stress at bay, in-the-moment options include:
- repeating positive affirmations
- calling or messaging a loved one
- progressive muscle relaxation
box breathing, which involves breathing in, holding your breath, breathing out, and holding your breath again
- slowly counting to 10
- engaging in humor
- breaking down large projects into small, manageable steps
Being too hot or too cold can strip away skin moisture and increase dryness. Sweat can be a surface irritant, and being too hot can increase the flow of blood to your skin, causing redness and itching.
If you work in an environment that experiences a range of temperatures, dressing in layers can give you the opportunity to adjust to the temperature by adding or removing clothing.
You can also consider adding a fan to your workspace or requesting a desk away from heating vents or direct sunlight.
Certain fabrics can be abrasive in texture or might prevent proper airflow to the skin, trapping in sweat and making you feel overheated.
Wearing breathable, loose-fitting fabrics, like those made from cotton, bamboo, or silk, can reduce clothing irritation. If you have to wear a uniform, a thin layer of eczema-friendly fabric beneath it may help protect your skin.
Some jobs come with higher levels of exposure to irritants such as chemicals, dust, and powders. Wearing personal protective gear can make a big difference when it comes to eczema.
Wearing a barrier such as gloves, masks, long-sleeved shirts, aprons, and plastic suits between your skin and irritants can help.
Many professions require frequent handwashing as a way to preserve sanitation and reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Washing your hands often can cause dryness, however, even if you don’t live with eczema.
Applying a moisturizer after washing or water exposure can help keep your skin from becoming irritated. When possible, wear gloves to prevent water exposure unrelated to handwashing.
Taking steps to reduce your exposure to triggers at work doesn’t guarantee you won’t experience eczema symptoms on the job. Eczema is a chronic condition that’s often present even in the absence of triggers.
When symptoms such as itch or dryness feel overwhelming and won’t let you focus, these tips from England’s National Eczema Society may help:
- Apply moisturizer throughout the day if possible.
- Use cooling emollients, or keep your emollient refrigerated to help soothe skin.
- Use long-acting moisturizers with humectant ingredients (lactic acid, glycerol, propylene glycol) if you’re unable to re-apply at work.
- Keep a cold compress in the freezer that can be applied to itchy areas.
If physical coping strategies aren’t enough, mindfulness is another option. Mindfulness is a state of awareness in which you focus on the moment, accepting experiences and thoughts without judgment.
You don’t have to disclose your eczema to anyone, but talking with supervisors and trusted coworkers might make a positive difference.
Increasing knowledge about conditions like eczema helps reduce the stigma around them. Many people don’t know what eczema is. They might mistakenly think it’s contagious or associated with hygiene.
Inserting educational comments about eczema into conversation can help build empathy about the condition. Talking with supervisors also opens the door for accommodations that might be helpful, such as the use of a private area to apply your moisturizer.
To help start the conversation with supervisors, consider:
- familiarizing yourself with the company’s policies regarding medical accommodations
- having medical documentation supporting your request
- choosing a time your conversation can be private
- clearly explaining how eczema impacts your work productivity
- having a list of specific accommodations
- highlighting the company benefits for providing accommodations
- staying professional, calm, and open to compromise
- following up on your conversation in writing
Some careers may naturally be more challenging if you live with eczema. These include jobs with daily chemical exposure, such as hairstyling and sanitation, jobs with high levels of particle irritants, like woodworking, and jobs with extreme temperatures, unavoidable water exposure, or high stress.
If your career or job position is causing significant eczema impairment, it may be time to consider alternative work environments.
The term “eczema” refers to a group of inflammatory skin conditions that share similar symptoms of dryness, itchiness, and irritation.
While trigger exposure, stigma, and lack of accommodations can make working with eczema a challenge, taking proactive steps in managing these factors can boost your occupational well-being.