Gardeners' hands...

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson reviews the prevalence of hand eczema among gardeners and offers simple avoidance tips

This week’s focus on flowers (it is the week of the Chelsea Flower Show in case you had missed it) has also led to a flurry of PR material about garden-related ailments – although not, sadly, to any allergen-aware Chelsea show gardens.  (See Michelle’s blog on Chelsea.)

While most have focused on inhaled allergens, has been looking at gardeners’ hands. The website is run by Basilea Pharmaceuticals who make a once-a-day oral treatment for hand eczema called Toctino, so they obviously have a vested interest in the site although, to be fair, they do not push their products and the site is informative and helpful. Interestingly, it does not list gardening as one of the ‘high risk’ jobs for developing ‘hand eczema’ even though anyone who has ever even grown some herbs in a window box knows what a toll gardening takes on one’s hands.

To maximise on the May gardening mania have carried out a survey of around 2,000 gardeners nationwide aged from 18 to 65 and including both professionals and amateurs, to try to establish the prevalence of garden-related hand skin problems. The key findings from their survey included:

* 69% of gardeners admit that they fail to protect their hands properly while gardening
* Only 31% wore gloves to protect themselves against dangerous plants and garden chemicals
* 23% admitted that plants such as chrysanthemums, tulips and ivy had caused them problems
* 67% of gardeners had sought medical advice for their hand-skin problems
* 39% had seen a dermatologist for their hand eczema
* 16% of gardeners had been forced to stop gardening because their hands were so bad

Skin problems are more prevalent on the hands of women and young gardeners and, while 33% of Edinburgh gardeners suffered from skin problems such as hand eczema, only 18% of those living in Nottingham did so!

The take home message for all gardeners, whether or not they have (as yet) got hand eczema or other hand-skin problems, is to protect….

Use plenty of fragrance-free natural had cream or emollient both before and after gardening – and always wear gloves.

For those who do not like the old fashioned thick, clumsy gloves, Town and Country do a fantastic range of thin gardening gloves which are like wearing kid gloves and allow you to do the most delicate of tasks with your gloves on.

Happy eczema-free gardening!

First published in May 2011

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