The term "latex" refers to natural rubber products made from the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree. Examples of products made from latex include examination gloves, latex-containing medical supplies, balloons, rubber bands, condoms, rubber household gloves, rubber balls and adhesive bandages.
Developing latex sensitivity or latex allergy from exposure to latex in products such as latex gloves. Workers can become sensitized and develop allergic reactions, with symptoms progressing from skin redness, hives, or itching to severe respiratory symptoms with repeated exposure (see CDC).
Healthcare workers exposed to latex products are at risk of developing latex sensitivity or latex allergy. An increasing number of healthcare workers are latex sensitive (CDC), with reactions ranging from irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact sensitivity, to immediate, possibly life-threatening, sensitivity. Many workers who are not traditional healthcare workers, such as housekeepers, laundry workers, and food service workers, who are also exposed to latex products, are also at risk.
- Workers with latex exposure from wearing latex gloves or using latex-containing medical supplies are at risk for developing latex allergy. Such workers include healthcare workers (physicians, nurses, aides, pharmacists, operating room employees, laboratory technicians, food service workers, and housekeeping personnel) who 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.
- Suspect latex allergy in anyone who develops certain symptoms after latex exposure, including: nasal, eye, or sinus irritation; hives; shortness of breath; coughing; wheezing; or unexplained shock. Ensure that a physician evaluates any exposed worker who experiences these symptoms, because further exposure may cause a serious allergic reaction. A diagnosis is made by using the results of a medical history, physical examination, and tests.
- Testing is 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 sensitized or allergic to latex, employers must take special precautions 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.
Requirements under OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030
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: Do not assume that hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners, or powderless gloves are non-latex or latex free.
- OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires handwashing immediately or as soon as feasible after removal of gloves or other personal protective equipment. One reason for this requirement is to help minimize powder and/or latex remaining in contact with the skin. [29 CFR 1910.1030(d)(2)(v)]
Other Federal Requirements
The Food and Drug Administration requires labeling, with caution statements, for medical devices that contain natural rubber, and prohibits the use of the word "hypoallergenic" on the labeling. [21 CFR 801.437].
Recognized Controls and Work Practices
- Use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace:
- Frequently clean areas contaminated with latex dust (upholstery, carpets, and ventilation ducts).
- 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.
- Limit the use of latex gloves as much as possible even when the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard does not apply.
- Latex Allergy. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
- Potential for Sensitization and Possible Allergic Reaction to Natural Rubber Latex Gloves and other Natural Rubber Products. OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin (SHIB), (January 28, 2008). Alerts field personnel, employees and employers about issues regarding sensitization and allergic reactions that have occurred in some individuals using natural rubber latex products, particularly gloves, in the workplace setting.
- Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-135, (June 1997).
- Latex Allergy: A Prevention Guide. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No.98-113, (1998).
- Home Healthcare Workers: How to Prevent Latex Allergies. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2012-119, (February 2012).
- Latex Allergies. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic. Describes latex allergies and includes links to NIOSH Publications on Latex Allergies, and Other Latex Allergy-Related Resources and Links.