Diagnosing Occupational Dermatitis

A diagnosis of occupational dermatitis can often be undertaken by a GP via a thorough examination of the affected skin and by the answering of a set of detailed questions posed by the GP. The questions will not only help to diagnose that the condition is dermatitis, but it will help to diagnose that it is occupational dermatitis i.e. the condition developed at work.

There are a range of other similar complaints that the medical professional will need to rule out such as atopic eczema, ringworm, urticarial, psoriasis and scabies.

As part of the diagnosis the medical professional will need to examine the affected area of skin and confirm that it matches the established clinical signs of contact dermatitis. To assist with the diagnosis of the type of dermatitis a series of questions will typically be asked such as the following –

  • When did the symptoms being and how long have they been present?
  • Which locations on the body are affected?
  • Is there a family history of skin diseases such as eczema, asthma or dermatitis?
  • What is your occupation?
  • What (if any) substances are you exposed to at work?
  • Does your skin disease improve when away from work for prolonged periods?
  • Are you exposed to potentially harmful substances at home?
  • Do clothing or jewellery exacerbate the problem?
  • What skin care products do you use?
  • Do you or family members have a history of allergies?
  • Do any foods or medicines taken affect the condition?

If the GP suspects dermatitis, they should be able to make a strong determination as to whether the condition is occupational in nature or not by the answers given to the above questions.

Allergen testing

To further diagnosis your GP may need to confirm whether you are suffering from allergic contact dermatitis by conducting a patch test. This is a method to test whether you are allergic to a specific allergen. The procedure involves adding a small amount of an allergen to your skin and covering the area with non-allergic tape for two days typically. At the end of the two days the tape is removed and an assessment is made as to whether there has been an allergic reaction to the allergen.

Irritant testing

Testing for irritants can be unreliable, but in some cases your GP might recommend a repeated open application test (ROAT). This is similar in nature to allergen patch testing but involves applying the substance to the skin twice a day for up to 10 days to assess whether the skin reacts to the irritant.