Question: I was working outside doing pool and yard chores and all of a sudden I got this intense itching and burning on my upper, inner arms. What is it and how can I get rid of it?
Answer: This is a true story and it can easily happen to you the more time you spend on outdoor summer activities.
This patient came into the office in a panic about what was itching on her upper arms. I noticed some redness and scratch marks where she had been itching and asked her what she was doing that day. After she told me she was doing yard work and pool chores I had a sneaking suspicion that she was a victim of fiberglass intrusion. This tough material is a fiber-reinforced polymer made of a plastic matrix reinforced by fine fibers of glass. You can come in contact with fiberglass in boats, oars and boating equipment, pool equipment, insulation, storage tanks, cars, bikes, bath tubs, hot tubs and surf boards just to name a few. I shined the light upwards on the reddened area and looked with a magnifying glass and there they were: Hundreds of small, hairy spicules of fiberglass that had penetrated her skin.
That’s when the light went on in her eyes and she told me how she had wrapped her arms around the fiberglass pool filter canister to twist it loose. Over time and with unrelenting sun and weather exposure, uncovered fiberglass degrades and the needle-like fibers on the surface can come loose which can get lodged in skin that comes in contact. this intrusion causes intense itching and burning (we clinically call it contact dermatitis because its caused by coming in contact with the substance, in this case, fiberglass) and will continue to itch and burn until the fiberglass “spicules” fall out or are removed.
How to get fiberglass out of your skin
Wash skin exposed to fiberglass as soon as possible by letting water run downward over the area (never rub upwards as this pushes the spicules further in or causes them to break off in your skin). You can try running a wet washcloth downward under downward running water to help dislodge strands. Gently dry in a downward motion also. When skin is dry treat remaining area with a dusting of talcum powder which causes the fibers to slide out of and off the skin. Itching may continue for a day or so until all strands are dislodged, but no lasting effects should be seen.
If after washing your skin you are still itchy and uncomfortable, a trip to the dermatology office is necessary. The irritation can be treated with topical anti-inflammatory creams so the itching and redness are decreased.
Have you ever been the victim of a fiberglass intrusion?