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Author: Niket Shah, Medical Student, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand. Medical editor: Dr Helen Gordon, Auckland, New Zealand. DermNet NZ Editor in Chief: Adjunct A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. Copy edited by Gus Mitchell. July 2020.
Fibreglass (American spelling fiber glass) is a man-made fibrous form of glass produced through a process called pultrusion. Multiple ingredients (including sand) are exposed to high temperatures then inserted through small holes to form glass filaments. Fibreglass itself is a chemically inert substance.
Fibreglass is used in a wide range of industries, as it has excellent thermal, acoustic, and electrical insulation properties. It is also used to reinforce other materials such as plastic.
Fibreglass dermatitis is a form of mechanical irritant contact dermatitis due to penetration of the stratum corneum of the skin by small fragments or spicules of fibreglass.
Less frequently, allergic contact dermatitis may develop to the resins that coat the fibreglass fragments.
Fibreglass dermatitis can occur in various occupational settings that involve the creation and use of fibreglass, including:
Occupational and recreational use of fibreglass
Fibreglass dermatitis can affect anyone directly exposed to fibreglass, particularly in an occupational setting.
Non-occupational fibreglass dermatitis includes frictional injury from items manufactured using fibreglass, such as hockey sticks and the skin of surfboards.
Fibreglass dermatitis is usually an acute presentation. Chronic symptoms of fibreglass dermatitis are rare, as tolerance develops with long-term exposure.
Fibreglass dermatitis affects the exposed areas of the face, neck, forearms, and hands. Flexural surfaces such as antecubital fossae and wrists may be particularly troubled due to increased fibre accumulation, sweat, and friction at these sites. Paronychia is common. High concentrations of airborne fibreglass particles can also cause fibreglass dermatitis which may be associated with sore throat, burning eyes, and cough.
Clinical findings in fibreglass dermatitis may include:
Family members sometimes develop fibreglass dermatitis after contact with the worker's clothing.
The degree of mechanical irritation to the skin by fibreglass relates to:
A detailed clinical history determines the exposure to fibreglass and other risk factors for developing fibreglass dermatitis.
Skin-stripping with microscopy may confirm the diagnosis:
Other investigations may include:
Fibreglass dermatitis may be misdiagnosed as:
Treatment for symptomatic fibreglass dermatitis may involve:
The prognosis of fibreglass dermatitis is variable, depending on the presentation and severity. It may self-resolve within a few days if there are only a few particles present in the skin. It tends to recur following re-exposure.
Personal protective equipment and clothing for workers should be used to prevent fibreglass dermatitis. This may include the use of gloves for workers directly handling fibreglass products, and wearing multiple layers of protective clothing. This clothing should be washed separately to minimise the risk of contamination of other items.
Thorough cleaning of occupational environments is required to remove residual fibreglass particles and prevent further exposure.
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