Allergy to latex was first recognized in the late 1970s. Since then, it has become a major health concern as an increased number of people in the workplace are affected. Health care workers exposed to latex gloves or medical products containing latex are especially at risk. It is estimated that 8-12% of health care workers are latex sensitive.
Workers in the health care industry (physicians, nurses, dentists, technicians, etc.) are at risk for developing a latex allergy because they use latex gloves frequently. Workers with less frequent glove use (hairdressers, housekeepers, food service workers, etc.) and workers in industries that manufacture latex products are also at-risk for having a latex allergy.
Latex allergy can be prevented only if employers adopt policies to protect workers from undue latex exposures. NIOSH recommends employers take the following steps to protect workers from latex exposure and allergy in the workplace:
- Ensure workers use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace:
- Identify areas contaminated with latex dust for frequent cleaning (upholstery, carpets, and ventilation ducts).
- Make sure that workers change ventilation filters and vacuum bags frequently in latex-contaminated areas.
- Provide workers with education programs and training materials about latex allergy.
- Periodically screen high-risk workers for latex allergy symptoms. Detecting symptoms early and removing symptomatic workers from latex exposure are essential for preventing long-term health effects.
- Evaluate current prevention strategies whenever a worker is diagnosed with latex allergy.
Workers should take the following steps to protect themselves from latex exposure and allergy in the workplace:
- Use non-latex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials (food preparation, routine housekeeping, maintenance, etc.).
- If you choose latex gloves, use only powder-free gloves with reduced protein content. “Hypoallergenic” latex gloves do not reduce the risk of latex allergy. However, they may reduce reactions to chemical additives in the latex (allergic contact dermatitis).
- 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.
- Use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace. Frequently clean areas contaminated with latex dust (upholstery, carpets, and ventilation ducts).