Science & Technology

Toilet seats causing irritation

Research led by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center confirms that diagnoses of “poop” dermatitis, formally known as allergic/irritant contact dermatitis, has recently made a comeback in pediatricians’ offices worldwide. This skin condition is characterized by skin irritations found on the buttocks and upper-thigh regions and is caused by substances found within the toilet seat.

“In the past this is something that we observed more frequently when sanitary seat covers were not available and people used wooden seats in their bathrooms. Some individuals are allergic to the essential oils and wooden lacquers that one could find in the seat,” said McGill’s Ivan Litvinov, the lead researcher.

Since the majority of bathroom facilities have converted to plastic seat covers, public facilities have become safer.

“I think public toilets are pretty safe,” said Bernard Cohen, director of pediatric dermatology at the Children’s Hospital at John Hopkins. “This was more of a problem here in the sixties, but with the new interest in exotic woods and paints and lacquers, this condition has resurfaced.”

The study also included research from Dr. Paramoo Sugathan, a dermatologist at Baby Memorial Hospital, Calicut, Kerala, India. Although India has experienced more cases of contact irritant dermatitis, the increase in cases is not necessarily correlated with the quality of life in the country. The warm climate is one factor that induces the reaction due to the increase in heat and rubbing, said Litvinov.

“In a number of countries, where for cultural or other reasons individuals prefer wooden over plastic seats, the prevalence of this condition is higher,” he said. “Wooden toilet seats contain a higher number of potential allergens.”

Additionally, Litvinov said that only a small percentage of the population will react to toilet seat covers, because contact irritant dermatitis cannot be spread.

“Your genetics determine what you will be allergic to – it’s all about the interaction of your genetics with the environment,” Litvinov. “Your genetics predispose you to certain conditions. For example, when you are 6’5″, you are predisposed to play basketball. One to two per cent of the population, based on their genetics, may be susceptible to the allergic/contact dermatitis. But if you are never exposed to that environment, you will not see the effects.”

Pediatricians are the target audience for the study. According to Litvinov, the intention of the study was not to warn the public about a particular condition, but rather to alert pediatricians about a rare condition that is easily remedied if spotted.

“I think we are seeing more of this problem, but the main issue is recognition, which we hope our paper will do,” Cohen said. “The problem is often long-term because people fail to think of it, but it goes away when recognized and protective measures are taken.”

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