PPE, short for personal protective equipment, has always been important to dental professionals. It helps us protect ourselves and our patients from the spread of germs and disease. But with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, wearing PPE is more crucial than ever.
Healthcare professionals are now the most at-risk group for coronavirus as they work in close contact with patients. The challenges surrounding PPE use, as well as the risk of PPE failure is unfolding before our eyes.
As a result, PPE must be used vigilantly by all healthcare professionals, including dentists and dental hygienists.
But one side effect of PPE that isn’t often discussed is the severe skin damages it can cause – especially when preventative measures aren’t taken to combat it.
Here, we’ll highlight how the use of PPE can result in skin damage, how to minimize skin damage, and how your own dental practice can be proactive in mitigating the risk.
Types of Common Skin Damage While Using PPE
A new study on medical workers treating COVID-19 patients discovered that 42.8% of staff experienced serious skin damage linked to the use of PPE. These items included masks, goggles, face shields, and protective gowns.
The study, published in Advances in Wound Care in June 2020, also concluded that the skin injuries put medical workers at an increased risk of infection of COVID-19 if insufficient prevention and treatment measures were not put in place.
The study consisted of 2,732 medical respondents. They were among the first healthcare workers fighting coronavirus in emergency departments, screening clinics, isolation areas, infectious branches, and as well as voluntary staff who wore PPE.
According to the study’s findings, 1,844 medical respondents experienced 4,735 skin injuries, equating to 2.6 skin injuries per respondent. Stage 1 injuries were registered by 81.1% of the respondents, 18.3% experienced stage 2, and 0.6% suffered from deep tissue injury.
Researchers discovered three main types of skin injuries relating to PPE: device-related pressure injuries, moisture associated skin damage, and skin tear.
Various factors increased the risk of skin damage. These include heavy sweating, longer daily wearing time, being male, and using grade 3 instead of grade 2 PPE.
Interestingly, skin injuries were more common in males than females, with 59.7% of men experiencing damage compared to 40.5% of women. Doctors were also more likely to suffer skin damage from PPE than nurses, with 51.9% of doctors experiencing injuries than 41.6% of nurses.
Skin injuries from PPE were also more common in the following groups:
- Those wearing grade 3 PPE compared those wearing grade 2 (88.5% versus 21.0%)
- Those using PPE longer than four hours than those with daily use time equal to or less than four hours (47.3% versus 18.7%)
- Those older than 35 than those younger than 35 (46.3% versus 41.2%)
- Those with considerable sweating than those without considerable sweating (91.3% versus 17.8%)
Avoiding Skin Damage When Using PPE
The same study also concluded that the treatment of skin injuries relating to PPE was insufficient.
Only 17.7% of respondents applied prophylactic dressings and lotions that protect the skin. Medical staff and managers overlooked skin protection during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and respondents received no training or education in prevention.
To prevent damage to the skin when using PPE, dentists and hygienists are advised to use preventative methods such as prophylactic dressings and lotions to avoid tear and injury. If you so become injured, these wounds must be treated immediately with hydrocolloid dressing, oil, or cream to ensure a quick recovery and to avoid infection when treating patients.
Preparing for PPE Skin Injuries During a Pandemic
That’s because medical staff and managers overlooked skin protection during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. As well as this, respondents received no training or education in prevention and didn’t know how to use dressings.
Of course, in the height of the pandemic, the risk of skin injury is unlikely to be a priority. But today, as dentists and dental hygienists prepare to reopen, we can and should be vigilant.
To reduce the risk of skin injuries and infection in wearing PPE, dental professionals should provide their staff with resources and training in skin protection; and protective items should be chosen and distributed to staff according to guidelines.