The extensive gloving required by current universal precaution standards and the predominant use of latex and latex-bearing powder in gloves has caused a dramatic increase in the incidence of irritant contact dermatitis and allergic reactions in healthcare professionals.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the incidence of latex allergies is on the rise with 12% of healthcare workers affected. Once a healthcare worker has begun to develop sensitivity, the signs and symptoms of latex sensitivity continue to increase until the professional takes steps to prevent repeated exposure.
Latex use hit a previously unknown high in 1987 when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended universal precautions for healthcare workers and facilities. These precautions let to a dramatically increased need for gloves. To cope with the growing demands for gloves and the decreasing supply of pure latex, glove manufacturers had to make changes that lessened the purity of the latex found in gloves. The use of latex with a higher percentage of impurities has put more healthcare professionals at risk for the development of latex allergies.
The latex used in rubber gloves comes from the rubber tree Hevea Brasiliensis. This latex is also used in medical devices from catheters to syringes, and everyday products such as balloons, rubber bands and telephone cords. It is important to be aware of all objects containing latex because once sensitivity is developed, it can become more severe with further exposure. Although direct skin exposure is the largest cause of sensitivity, airborne latex proteins can lead to inhalation-based sensitivities as well. Individuals with asthma or inhalant allergies, (e.g., ragweed) are at a higher risk to develop a latex allergy.
Shriners Galveston Hospital has adopted a latex-safe environment policy. This means the glove standard for jobs requiring barrier protection is reduced protein, powder free. In the event a caregiver is latex-sensitive and requires barrier protection, the hospital provides non-latex supplies for caregivers and for patients who are latex sensitive.
Use non-latex gloves for any activities that will not involve direct contact with infectious material.
If you must use latex gloves, the hospital provides reduced protein, powder-free latex gloves. Use these unless you are allergic to latex.
Do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions with latex gloves. These lotions can deteriorate the gloves.
Wash and dry hands thoroughly after removing the latex gloves.
Dispose of latex gloves as biohazardous waste.
Clean the areas contaminated with latex dust, and keep them clean.
Avoidance of latex is the only means to assure prevention of a latex allergy; and it is the only protection from allergic symptoms in a person who has already developed a latex allergy.
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