Horrific reaction to store's hand sanitiser puts woman in emergency

·3-min read

A 22-year-old woman from Sydney says she suffered severe eczema after she was asked to use hand sanitiser at a shop during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

In late April or early May in 2020, Lauren Rigby was out at the shops when everything was starting to reopen and was asked to use hand sanitiser before entering.

"I had no idea at this point, so I just put a little bit on and it started burning," Ms Rigby told A Current Affair.

She asked her mum if her hands were also burning, to which her mum Michelle said 'no'.

Ms Rigby developed a rash on her hands and didn't think much of it at the time, but she would try on clothing at a store and the rash would spread to where she had tried on the clothes.

She then noticed staff at stores would be spraying disinfectant on clothes and surfaces.

Lauren Rigby suffered a severe reaction from hand sanitiser and disinfectants used amid the coronavirus pandemic. Source: A Current Affair/Nine
Lauren Rigby suffered a severe reaction from hand sanitiser and disinfectants used during the coronavirus pandemic. Source: A Current Affair/Nine

Her body was covered in eczema, she says her skin was so swollen, there would be dents if it was touched and the peeling was so bad, piles of skin had to be vacuumed up.

"I just lived through every day, hoping that it would go away, hoping that somebody would give me medicine to make it go away," Ms Rugby told A Current Affair.

"Hoping that it was just a horrible nightmare that I was just gonna wake up from, but no."

Eczema turns into life-threatening condition

The eczema eventually turned into Erythroderma. It's a severe and potentially life-threatening inflammation of the skin's surface, explains non-profit, academic healthcare organisation Cedars-Sinai.

"It causes redness and scaling of the skin, spread over an area. This starts in patches and spreads over the body. The skin begins to peel (slough) off," Cedars-Sinai said.

Erythroderma can cause problems with someone's ability to manage body temperature, lead to protein and fluid loss and an increased metabolic rate.

"Erythroderma can be life-threatening. You may need to spend time in the hospital or burn centre for treatment," the organisation said.

Eventually Ms Rigby went to the emergency room with a referral, hoping to get help and a year later, medications have helped get her skin under control.

Dermatologist Robin Jackson told A Current Affair, reactions like Ms Rigby's are rare but can happen.

Hand washing or using hand sanitiser has been integral amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Lauren Rigby's skin was able to recover following treatment. Source: A Current Affair/Nine
Lauren Rigby's skin was able to recover following treatment. Source: A Current Affair/Nine

'Hand sanitisers not suitable for people with skin conditions'

"People with eczema should follow the government guidance to wash hands with soap and water, rather than a moisturiser substitute, as much as practically possible," Eczema Association Australia says on its website. 

"Regular hand washing is the most important way to minimise the risk of contracting and spreading infection. An antibacterial soap is not necessary."

It also says most hand sanitisers available at shops or other places people visit, are not often suitable for people with skin conditions.

The association recommends doing a patch test when trying a new sanitiser, and bringing your own sanitiser which is suitable for your skin and apply upon entry.

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