Labourers face health hazards from exposure to cement: AIIMS study
New Delhi: Men and women labourers, who work at construction sites, and are exposed to cement, which contains harmful chemicals, are at high risk of contracting skin infections, a new study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has found.
The study, conducted by the AIIMS Department of Dermatology and Venereology along with Sweden's Lund University with key researchers being Dr Kaushal Verma and Dr Magnus Bruze, found that major concentrations of chemicals like hexavalent chromium in cement can lead to skin problems like dermatitis, eczema, rashes and burning sensation, among others.
"At AIIMS, we have seen many patients working in the construction industry and had been suffering from major skin allergies. After we witnessed a rise in the number of patients with such cases we decided to conduct a study," Dr Verma, Professor, Department of Dermatology and Venereology, AIIMS, said.
Occupational skin diseases constitute an important burden among workers in the construction industry. As per the study, occupational exposure to cement can also cause skin reactions like cement burns, toxic paronychia, subungual necrosis, folliculitis and petechiae. As for initial symptoms, it begins with drying of skin and itching and later escalates to major allergies among those who have been working for two or more years in the construction industry.
"The initial symptoms emerge after working for several months. But the construction workers tend to ignore this as they are not aware of the health hazards. At AIIMS, many patients who have been working for more than two years have come with severely damaged skin," Dr Verma added.
While wet cement was found to be more harmful than dry cement, Dr Verma further pointed that it is the latter which is usually in greater touch with the skin because it gets amalgamated with the air.
Other than the hands, cement allergy can also emerge in other parts of the body.
"Once allergies (of any kind) develop on the skin, they remain for a long time and similar is the case with hazards to the skin arising from cement. The body tends to quickly react to any substance that doesn't suit it," Dr Verma added.
Talking about the possibilities of treatment and cure of occupational skin diseases, Dr Verma said this depends on how major the allergy is and which parts of the body it has spread to.
If the skin allergy is in its initial phase, then it can be easily cured in two to four weeks with corticosteroids, anti-allergy tablets and drugs, creams, ointments and lotions.
"However, if the problem escalates and becomes serious then one might have to take corticosteroid tablets and injections. In some cases, azathioprine and cyclosporine (immuno-supressive medication) can also be prescribed if corticosteroids fail to give relief. That might take around a few months for cure, but such cases are limited," Dr Verma added. However, before the treatment starts, a patient needs to go through a "patch test" which, Dr Verma said, often is a cumbersome process as many of the hospitals do not have the facility.
"Unlike other tests, in the patch test, the patient needs to keep visiting the hospital or clinic for a week. The treatment is based on the report," he noted. While the test is done for free at AIIMS and other government hospitals, it can be prohibitively expensive at private faciities, costing anything upwards of Rs 10,000.
If someone is completely detached from any association with cement, there is no risk of occupational skin diseases recurring.