How to Prevent Latex Allergies

Latex Allergy Protection

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Workers who have ongoing exposure to latex can use all of the following methods to protect themselves:

  1. Use non-latex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials.
  2. When handling infectious material, such as blood, use powder-free gloves with a reduced protein content.
  3. When wearing latex gloves, do NOT use oil-based hand creams or lotions, as they can cause the glove to deteriorate.
  4. Frequently clean work areas contaminated with latex dust, such as carpets and ventilation ducts.
  5. Learn to recognize the symptoms of a latex allergy.
  6. Take advantage of all latex allergy education and training provided by your employer.
How to Prevent Latex Allergies
Use non-latex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials.

Developing Symptoms

If you develop symptoms of a latex allergy, avoid direct contact with latex gloves and other latex-containing products until you can see a physician experienced in treating latex allergies.

If you have a latex allergy, your health care professional or physician may discuss the following precautions:

  • Avoiding contact with latex gloves and products.
  • Avoiding areas where you might inhale the powder from latex gloves worn by other workers.
  • Telling your employer and health care providers (physicians, nurses, dentists, etc.) that you have a latex allergy.
  • Wearing a medical alert bracelet.

Case Reports

The following case reports briefly describe the experiences of three workers who developed a latex allergy after occupational exposures. These cases are not representative of all reactions to latex but are examples of the most serious types of reactions. They illustrate the experience in some individuals.

  1. A 33-year-old woman sought medical treatment for occupational asthma after 6 months of periodic cough, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and occasional wheezing. She had worked for 7 years as an inspector at a medical supply company, where her job included inflating latex gloves coated with cornstarch. Her symptoms began within 10 minutes of starting work and worsened later in the day continuing 90 minutes after leaving work. Symptoms disappeared completely while she was on a 12-day vacation, but they returned on her first day back at work.
  2. A midwife initially suffered hives, nasal congestion, and conjunctivitis. Within a year, she developed asthma, and 2 years later she went into shock after a routine gynecological examination during which latex gloves were used. The midwife also suffered respiratory distress in latex-containing environments when she had no direct contact with latex products. She was unable to continue working.
  3. An intensive care nurse with a history of runny nose, itchy eyes, asthma, eczema, and contact dermatitis experienced four severe allergic reactions to latex. The first reaction began with asthma severe enough to require treatment in an emergency room. The second and third reactions were similar to the first. The fourth and most severe reaction occurred when she put on latex gloves at work. She went into severe shock and was successfully treated in an emergency room.

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Latex allergy in the workplace can result in potentially serious health problems for workers, who are often unaware of the risk of latex exposure.

Barrier Protection

It is extremely important that barrier protection be used when hands would otherwise contact infectious materials or hazardous chemicals, such as latex.

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) requires that gloves be worn when it is reasonably anticipated that hand contact may occur with blood, other potentially infectious materials, mucous membranes, non-intact skin, or contaminated items or surfaces, as well as when performing vascular access procedures [except as specified in paragraph (d)(3)(ix)(D)].

When gloves are being worn to protect against bloodborne pathogens, the standard requires that employers provide readily accessible alternatives, such as glove liners, for employees who are allergic to the gloves normally provided.

Reducing Exposure and Risk

Reducing Exposure and Risk
Reducing exposure has been the primary prevention method to protect workers with latex allergies.

Reducing Exposure

Reducing exposure has been the primary prevention method to protect workers with latex allergies. Gloves made of NRL as well as alternative materials have been cleared by the FDA for marketing as medical gloves.

Reducing Risk

A prudent risk reduction strategy involves an initial survey and assessment, with a coordinated effort to identify and catalogue all NRL products used in the workplace. An ongoing program involves close coordination between both resources and management staff. This will help monitor NRL content of incoming products so management can be prepared to choose appropriate alternatives to protect at-risk employees.

Controlling Exposure and Risk

Controlling Exposure and Risk
Employers should follow the hierarchy of controls to help prevent latex allergies.

Employers should follow the well-known hierarchy of controls to help prevent or mitigate exposure and the risk of latex allergies in the healthcare setting. The strategies in the hierarchy for latex protection include elimination, substitution, administrative controls, and PPE.

Elimination & Substitution

Eliminating exposure to latex is the most effective method of control. Unnecessary latex-containing materials should be eliminated. When materials, such as gloves and bandages, are required, a non-latex version should be substituted to replace the latex-containing version.

Administrative controls

Healthcare facilities should implement administrative controls, which include policies and procedures, to reduce the risk of allergic NRL reactions. For example:

  • Creating so-called “safe zones” to protect those employees who are already sensitized to NRL allergenic proteins might be necessary. “Safe zones” are areas where non-NRL products are used and NRL allergenic proteins have been removed from the environment.
  • Ensuring workers use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace. Policies are developed to:
    • identify areas contaminated with latex dust for frequent cleaning (upholstery, carpets, and ventilation ducts); and
    • make sure workers change ventilation filters and vacuum bags frequently in latex-contaminated areas.
  • Providing workers with education programs that include instruction and hands-on training about latex safety.
  • Periodically screening 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.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

NIOSH recommends employers take the following to protect workers from latex exposure and allergy in the workplace:

  1. Provide workers with non-latex gloves to use when there is little potential for contact with infectious materials (for example, in the food service industry).
  2. Appropriate barrier protection is necessary when handling infectious materials. If latex gloves are chosen, provide reduced protein, powder-free gloves to protect workers from infectious materials.

Powdered Gloves Banned

On December 19, 2016, the FDA published a final rule banning powdered gloves based on the unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury to individuals exposed to the powdered gloves: Banned Devices; Powdered Surgeon’s Gloves, Powdered Patient Examination Gloves, and Absorbable Powder for Lubricating a Surgeon’s Glove. Click on the button for more information.

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