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Friday, 25 March 2011 04:37

Skin Problems

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The first reports of skin complaints among people working with or near VDUs came from Norway as early as 1981. A few cases have also been reported from the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan. Sweden, however, has provided many case reports and public discussion on the health effects of exposure to VDUs was intensified when one case of skin disease in a VDU worker was accepted as an occupational disease by the Swedish National Insurance Board in late 1985. The acceptance of this case for compensation coincided with a marked increase in the number of cases of skin disease that were suspected to be related to work with VDUs. At the Department of Occupational Dermatology at Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, the caseload increased from seven cases referred between 1979 and 1985, to 100 new referrals from November 1985 to May 1986.

Despite the relatively large number of people who sought medical treatment for what they believed to be VDU-related skin problems, no conclusive evidence is available which shows that the VDUs themselves lead to the development of occupational skin disease. The occurrence of skin disease in VDU-exposed people appears to be coincidental or possibly related to other workplace factors. Evidence for this conclusion is strengthened by the observation that the increased incidence of skin complaints made by Swedish VDU workers has not been observed in other countries, where the mass media debate on the issue has not been as intense. Further, scientific data collected from provocation studies, in which patients have been purposely exposed to VDU-related electromagnetic fields to determine whether a skin effect could be induced, have not produced any meaningful data demonstrating a possible mechanism for development of skin problems which could be related to the fields surrounding a VDU.


Case Studies: Skin Problems and VDUs

Sweden: 450 patients were referred and examined for skin problems which they attributed to work at VDUs. Only common facial dermatoses were found and no patients had specific dermatoses that could be related to work with VDUs. While most patients felt that they had pronounced symptoms, their visible skin lesions were, in fact, mild according to standard medical definitions and most of the patients reported improvement without drug therapy even though they continued to work with VDUs . Many of the patients were suffering from identifiable contact allergies, which explained their skin symptoms . Epidemiological studies comparing the VDU-work patients to a non-exposed control population with a similar skin status showed no relationship between skin status and VDU work. Finally, a provocation study did not yield any relation between the patient symptoms and electrostatic or magnetic fields from the VDUs (Wahlberg and Lidén 1988; Berg 1988; Lidén 1990; Berg, Hedblad and Erhardt 1990; Swanbeck and Bleeker 1989).In contrast to a few early nonconclusive epidemiological studies (Murray et al. 1981; Frank 1983; Lidén and Wahlberg 1985), a large-scale epidemiological study (Berg, Lidén, and Axelson 1990; Berg 1989) of 3,745 randomly selected office employees, of whom 809 persons were medically examined, showed that while the VDU-exposed employees reported significantly more skin problems than a nonexposed control population of office employees, upon examination, they were not actually found to have no more visible signs or more skin disease.

Wales (UK): A questionnaire study found no difference between reports of skin problems in VDU workers and a control population (Carmichael and Roberts 1992).

Singapore: A control population of teachers reported significantly more skin complaints than did the VDU users (Koh et al. 1991).


It is, however, possible that work-related stress could be an important factor that can explain VDU-associated skin complaints. For example, follow-up studies in the office environment of a subgroup of the VDU-exposed office employees being studied for skin problems showed that significantly more people in the group with skin symptoms experienced extreme occupational stress than people without the skin symptoms. A correlation between levels of the stress-sensitive hormones testosterone, prolactin and thyroxin and skin symptoms were observed during work, but not during days off. Thus, one possible explanation for VDU-associated facial skin sensations could be the effects of thyroxin, which causes the blood vessels to dilate (Berg et al. 1992).

 

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