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Powdered latex gloves risky
10 Myths about Latex Allergy
Latex Allergy

Dental India

Latex Gloves and Allergies


(Reprinted from California Nurse - September 1997) This article was written by Maggie Robbins, an occupational health specialist, and attorneys at the law offices of Kazan, McClain, Edises, Simon & Abrams in Oakland. What are the problems that can be caused by wearing latex gloves? There are three types of health problems that regular natural rubber latex gloves wearers can have: (1) irritant dermatitis, (2) allergic contact dermatitis and (3) immediate latex allergy. Up to 17 percent of health care workers who regularly wear latex gloves have developed an allergy to them. Latex allergies can be life-threatening. IRRITANT DERMATITIS What does it feel like? Over time, your hands may become red and chapped, the skin may thicken and develop hard bumps or cracks. This is the most common health problem associated with wearing latex gloves. What causes it? Irritant dermatitis is an irritation caused by repeated hand washing and wearing of gloves, especially powdered gloves. This is not an allergic reaction. Gloves may cause irritation both because the powder is an irritant and because your skin stays moist as you wear gloves for many hours during the day. Hand washing also may cause irritation due to the use of strong scrubbing agents, soaps and detergents. How do I prevent it? Only wear gloves when you need them. When you wear gloves, remove them at least every hour to allow hands to dry out. Use powderless gloves. When washing your hands, use the mildest soaps, detergents and scrubs you can and rinse and dry your hands well. Identify any irritating scrubs, soaps, detergents, or powders and avoid them. Also, use an emollient to reduce dryness caused by hand washing (but don't use oil-based ones before donning latex gloves; that can cause the latex to become weak and interfere with barrier efficacy). ALLERGIC CONTACT DERMATITIS (DELAYED) What does it feel like? Your hands, wrists and even forearms will develop a red, itchy rash, bumps, sores and cracks. This reaction is similar to poison oak reactions in that the rash and blisters usually don't arise until hours or even days after exposure. What causes it? This is an allergic reaction of the skin caused by chemicals inside the gloves. The chemicals are residues from the glove-making process which were not completely removed during manufacturing. The more you are exposed to these chemicals, the more likely you will react to them. How do I prevent it? You can reduce this problem by using gloves labeled "hypo-allergenic" which are specially manufactured to ensure low chemical levels (but these do not prevent latex allergy, described below). You may also switch to a non-latex glove, though they may have other chemicals residues. Latex Allergy (immediate) What does it feel like? Symptoms may vary from hives and eczema to stuffy nose, red itchy eyes, swollen face, difficulty breathing, asthma and anaphylaxis. These reactions can be life-threatening. What causes it? This is an immediate, systemic, allergic reaction to proteins on the surface of the glove. The proteins in the gloves are unwanted residues from the manufacturing process. The more you are exposed to proteins in latex gloves, the more likely you are to develop a latex allergy. How do I prevent it? The most effective way to prevent becoming allergic to latex is to eliminate contact with latex gloves and to avoid areas where powdered latex gloves are used. The proteins adhere to the powder in the gloves and become airborne in areas where gloves are frequently changed. The next best way to avoid becoming allergic to latex is to use only latex gloves which are low in protein/allergen. Some manufacturers make very low protein gloves. Gloves labeled "hypo-allergenic" are not necessarily low protein/low allergen; they are only low in chemical allergens. Note; If you are latex allergic, you should stop wearing latex gloves. What is a low allergen/low protein glove? Low allergen gloves are manufactured in a way which removes the excess protein. Despite the name, "hypo-allergenic" gloves are not necessarily low allergen. "Hypo- allergenic" gloves are only required to be low in chemical allergens. There are several different methods for testing gloves for their allergen or protein level, and unfortunately the labels on boxes of gloves don't usually give you information about protein/allergen levels. Are there non-latex gloves available which are as effective as latex? Latex is an excellent barrier to protect health care workers from exposure to blood and body fluids and the pathogens they contain. Latex is also desirable because of its excellent elasticity and tactile sensitivity for surgeons and others doing sensitive hand manipulations. However, in many other parts of the health care industry, latex exam and surgical gloves are not necessary or advisable. First, you need to evaluate whether a glove is needed at all in a given situation. If a glove is needed, the type of glove should be selected carefully based on their durability needed for the task, resistance to viruses, antibacterial qualities, allergen and powder level, comfort to wear and sensitivity. There are non-latex glove materials including vinyl, neoprene, and polymer which you should consider.
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