Latex Reactions in the Modification Industry
Understanding Why Latex Reactions Occur and How Best to Prevent Them
All industries that utilize latex gloves in their practices have seen a large increase in the number of practitioners who are sensitive or allergic to latex gloves. This increase in latex allergies can be attributed to two primary factors:
- One of the reasons we have seen an increase in reported sensitivities or allergic reactions is due to the institution of Universal Precautions. Universal Precautions has resulted in the increase in the number of latex gloves being used.
- A secondary factor is the manufacturing process itself and the quality of latex that is being used in the manufacturing process.
There are several different types of reactions that can occur. It is important to understand the types of reactions in order to determine if the reaction is truly a reaction to latex, or if the reaction is due to some other unrelated factor. Determining the cause of the reaction makes it possible to determine what course of action will prove to be most beneficial. The following are the most common types of reactions:
A. Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Symptoms: Typical symptoms of Irritant Contact Dermatitis are dry, flaky, irritated areas of skin, most commonly the hands.
Common Causes: This condition can be caused by frequent hand-washing and drying as well as not properly drying hands after hand-washing. In addition, exposure to powders used on latex gloves can also contribute to this type of reaction. It is important to realize that this type of reaction is not a true allergic reaction to latex gloves.
B. Allergic Contact Dermatitis (delayed hypersensitivity)
Symptoms: Symptoms for this type of reaction often resemble a reaction to poison ivy. The skin will often develop oozing skin blisters. This condition often appears 24-48 hours after exposure and may spread to areas that do not come in contact with latex.
Common causes: This condition is most commonly causes by chemicals added to the latex during harvesting, processing, or the manufacturing process. It is important to realize that some of the same chemicals used in processing natural rubber latex gloves may also be used in processing synthetic rubber gloves such as Nitrile.
C. Latex allergy (immediate hypersensitivity)
Symptoms: The types of symptoms that appear due to this kind of reaction vary depending upon the level of sensitivity.
Reactions may vary from mild (severe skin redness, development of hives and/or itching) to more severe (difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, sneezing, runny nose, and/or scratchy throat). In some severe cases, a life-threatening shock may develop. Immediate hypersensitivity reactions typically occur within minutes of exposure to latex.
Common Causes: This type of reaction occurs as a result of a direct allergy to latex proteins. It is often difficult to determine what level of exposure will cause this type of reaction. In addition, this type of reaction is something that often develops over time, as the individual is frequently exposed to latex.
The issue of sensitivities or allergic reactions to latex gloves in our industry has become an issue that cannot be ignored as they have the potential to affect our ability to work safely, or to work at all.
One of the most effective ways to prevent allergic reactions to latex is to minimize the use of latex products, especially gloves. One common, and very effective substitute for latex gloves, are gloves made of Nitrile. Nitrile is a synthetic rubber that contains no natural rubber latex. Nitrile provides a barrier protection equal, if not superior, to that of latex. However, Nitrile is still a form of rubber, and as such, may also be processed using some of the same chemicals used to process latex gloves.
If latex gloves are used, the following precautions can be taken to reduce the occurrence of various reactions:
- Use latex gloves that are powder-free. The powder can be absorbed into the skin, carrying with it latex proteins. While powdered-free latex gloves may be slightly more expensive, they can greatly reduce the potential for reactions. In addition, if the hands are dried thoroughly after washing, donning of powder-free latex gloves is no more difficult than donning latex gloves that are powdered.
- Wash your hands both before and after the procedure using a mild soap and drying them thoroughly. This will help remove latex proteins that become embedded in the skin.
- Keep your skin in good condition using lotions and/or creams. There are a variety of products available that are formulated specifically for the purpose of maintaining the health of the skin on the hands. Read the ingredients on products to ensure that any hand lotions used are not oil-based. Oil will break down the latex, increasing your potential for exposure to pathogens as well as increasing the amount of latex absorbed into your skin.
For further information, feel free to contact us at:
David Vidra, C.L.P.N., M.A., OSHA Authorized Outreach Instructor.