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Introduction

Unlike most organs, the skin is in constant contact with the external environment. The skin ensures the body’s integrity by preserving internal fluids and electrolytes, maintaining thermoregulation, and protecting against physical injury and entry of harmful agents. Because the skin has such a prominent and protective role, many factors affect it adversely, including mechanical agents (friction, vibration, pressure, and trauma); physical agents (heat, cold, and radiation); biologic agents (plants, insects, animals, and microbes); and a variety of chemical agents.

The large number of chemicals in the home and workplace and the accidental and intentional releases to air, water, and soil potentially allow ever-increasing contact with chemicals in the environment. Dermatitis from chemical exposures in the workplace accounts for about 30% of all reported occupational illness; the prevalence of skin lesions due to chemicals encountered outside the workplace (i.e., environmental exposures) may never be known.

Seven common skin conditions that can have environmental etiologies are presented in this monograph. Accurate diagnoses and identification of etiologies are necessary, not only to properly treat skin diseases, but also to prevent future occurrence of disease or exposure.

Familiarity with the vocabulary of dermatology is helpful in understanding this specialized topic. A glossary of terms begins on page 42.

(a) What are the most likely nonoccupational etiologies for four of the more common skin conditions: irritant and allergic contact dermatitis, urticaria, and photosensitivity?

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(b) What are the most effective treatments and preventive measures for each of these skin conditions?

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Answers begin on page 39.



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