08/20/2004

Exposure To Latex Can Make Protection Turn Bitter

In places like hospital operating rooms, intensive care units or dentist
offices, wearing latex gloves has been an important way for people working with
infectious substances to protect themselves and others. Ironically, the very
gloves that are meant to protect can also be a hazard to those allergic to
products made with natural rubber latex. Workers who commonly wear latex gloves
include doctors, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists and assistants, food
service workers, hairdressers, housekeeping and cleaning staff. People who have
other allergies and wear latex gloves in their everyday work are at higher risk
of developing a latex allergy.

In sensitive individuals, latex allergy is caused by repeated exposure to the
protein from the natural rubber in latex. The powdery starch (added to the
gloves to make them less sticky inside) can absorb the protein and become
airborne when staff put on or take off powdered latex gloves.

Latex allergy can affect the skin, causing redness, itching, rashes and hives.
Other allergic symptoms include hay fever-type reactions such as itchy swollen
eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. More severe reactions affect the respiratory
system causing asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and
shortness of breath. Exposure to latex is one of the leading causes of
occupational asthma in healthcare workers, currently affecting five to 18
percent. In rare, severe cases of latex allergy, the victim can go into
anaphylactic shock, a potentially fatal reaction.

If you experience any of the symptoms described above or you suspect you may be
allergic to latex, the first step is to inform your supervisor and minimize
your contact with latex-containing products until you see your doctor. You will
need to be tested by an allergy specialist to confirm if you have the allergy
or not.

There is evidence that the more you are exposed to latex, the more allergic you
can become. If you have only a minor latex allergy, you should minimize your
exposure to latex so that you do not risk becoming more sensitive. If you
suffer from hay fever symptoms when exposed to latex, you could develop asthma
with continued exposure.

Healthcare workers who develop allergies to latex must significantly alter the
way they do their jobs to minimize or eliminate latex exposure whenever
possible. Those with severe allergies (like asthma or anaphylaxis) may find
their health so compromised that their employment in the healthcare profession
is put in jeopardy.

How to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction to latex:

  • Use non-latex products whenever possible, including non-occupational
    exposures (e.g. balloons, costume masks). Non-latex substitutes are available
    for most commonly used natural rubber latex products. However, be warned that
    "hypoallergenic" gloves are usually made from latex so latex-sensitive workers
    should check to see if they are made from latex or some other material.
  • If there are no other suitable types of gloves, use reduced-protein,
    powder-free latex gloves to reduce the risk of allergic reaction.
  • Control latex-containing dust through good housekeeping practices in the
    workplace. Identify areas that need frequent cleaning due to latex dust
    (upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums) and ensure ventilation
    filters and vacuum bags in high-latex areas are changed frequently.
  • Know the procedures for prevention, and learn to recognize the symptoms for
    latex allergy.
  • If your allergy is severe, obtain and wear Medic Alert bracelet printed
    with "severe allergy to natural rubber latex".

Further information


AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety