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Healthcare Wide Hazards
Latex Allergy

Latex Gloves
Latex gloves

Potential Hazard

Developing latex sensitivity or latex allergy from exposure to latex in products like latex gloves.

It is estimated that 8-12 percent of health care workers are latex sensitive with reactions ranging from irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact sensitivity, to immediate, possibly life-threatening, sensitivity.

Many workers who are not traditional health care workers, such as housekeepers, laundry workers, gardeners, are exposed to latex products and latex allergy.

NIOSH Alert: Workers exposed to latex gloves and other products containing natural rubber latex may develop allergic reactions such as skin rashes; hives; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and (rarely) shock.

  • Workers with ongoing latex exposure from wearing latex gloves or using latex-containing medical supplies are at risk for developing latex allergy. Such workers include health care workers (physicians, nurses, aides, pharmacists, operating room employees, laboratory technicians, gardeners, food service workers, and housekeeping personnel) may also be at risk.

  • Atopic individuals (persons with a tendency to have multiple allergic conditions) are at increased risk for developing latex allergy. Latex allergy is also associated with allergies to certain foods especially avocado, potato, banana, tomato, chestnuts, kiwi fruit, and papaya. People with spina bifida are also at increased risk for latex allergy.

  • Latex allergy should be suspected in anyone who develops certain symptoms after latex exposure, including nasal, eye, or sinus irritation; hives; shortness of breath; coughing; wheezing; or unexplained shock. Any exposed worker who experiences these symptoms should be evaluated by a physician, because further exposure could cause a serious allergic reaction. A diagnosis is made by using the results of a medical history, physical examination, and tests.

  • Testing is also available to diagnose allergic contact dermatitis. In this FDA-approved test, a special patch containing latex additives is applied to the skin and checked over several days. A positive reaction is shown by itching, redness, swelling, or blistering where the patch covered the skin.

  • Once a worker becomes allergic to latex, special precautions are needed to prevent exposures during work as well as during medical or dental care. Certain medications may reduce the allergy symptoms, but complete latex avoidance (though quite difficult) is the most effective approach. Many facilities maintain latex-safe areas for affected patients and workers.

Possible Solutions

Use appropriate gloves for latex-sensitive employees:

  • The employer shall ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment, in the appropriate sizes, is readily accessible at the worksite or is issued to employees. Hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners, powderless gloves, or other similar alternatives shall be readily accessible to those employees who are allergic to the gloves normally provided [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(3)(iii)].
  • Among the alternatives are synthetic, low protein, and powder-free gloves. Powder-free gloves may reduce systemic allergic responses.

  • Note: Hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners, or powderless gloves are not to be assumed to be non-latex or latex free.

  • The FDA now requires labeling statements for medical devices that contain natural rubber and prohibits the use of the word "hypoallergenic" to describe such products. [21 CFR 810.437, Natural Rubber-Containing Medical Devices; User Labeling. Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 189, (effective September 30, 1998; Revised as of April 1, 2008).
  • OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires handwashing after removal of gloves or other personal protective equipment. This helps to minimize powder and/or latex remaining in contact with the skin [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(v)].

NIOSH recommends:

  • Use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace:

    • Frequently clean areas contaminated with latex dust (upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums).

    • Frequently change ventilation filters and vacuum bags used in latex-contaminated areas.

  • Use appropriate work practices to reduce the chance of reactions to latex:

    • When wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions (which can cause glove deterioration) unless they have been shown to reduce latex-related problems and maintain glove barrier protection.

    • After removing latex gloves, wash hands with a mild soap and dry thoroughly.

  • Do not use latex gloves when there is no risk of exposure to blood or OPIM.

Additional Information:

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