Gloves - Latex Allergies

When brought into contact with Natural Rubber Latex (NRL), some individuals may respond with an allergic reaction. There are two types of allergic reaction to NRL: Type I, or ‘immediate hypersensitivity’ and Type IV, known as ‘delayed hypersensitivity’.

Type I is defined as a reaction to the NRL itself (or more specifically the raw latex of the rubber tree, Hevea Brasiliensis), whereas Type IV relates to a reaction to chemicals used in the manufacture of latex gloves or associated powders such as cornstarch, which is used to assist in easy glove donning.

Type I reactions can range from urticaria (local hives at contact site) to systemic allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and might manifest as any of the following symptoms: watery eyes, runny nose, swelling, abdominal cramps, dizziness, breathing difficulty, asthma, low blood pressure or increased heart rate. Generally speaking, symptoms usually appear within 30 minutes of exposure.  Type I reactions only occur in individuals who are genetically predisposed to an allergic response to this specific allergen. If Type I reactions occur, the individual must immediately avoid the allergen and seek appropriate medical advice.

Type IV allergic reactions present on the skin as a dermatitis rash. Inflammation, redness and blistering on the contact site are typical symptoms. Type IV reactions are the most common allergic reactions to NRL products. Individuals need simply avoid the allergen or use topical medications or antihistamines for treatment.

Where cornstarch is added to gloves, the motion of donning and removing latex gloves can aerosolise chemical residues. Inhalation or ingestion of these powders can result in minor ailments such as increased sensitivity or eye irritation or serious reactions such as upper respiratory tract infection. Powder-free non-surgical gloves contain a distinctly smaller amount of allergen than powdered gloves and are therefore recommended for those with NRL allergies.

Patients at increased risk of NRL allergic reaction are those that suffer from Spina bifida, myelomeningocele or meningocele and those that require repeated bladder catheterizations or have had multiple surgical procedures. Other individuals at increased risk are those with a history of reaction to certain foods or grasses including banana, potato, chestnut, kiwifruit, papaya, avocado or ragweed and those who have allergic disorders such as asthma, hay fever or dermatitis.

In some cases, skin reactions to latex products (particularly gloves) might be mistaken for a true allergic reaction.  Glove users might experience skin rash or local discomfort due to loss of skin integrity caused by retained soaps, moisture, and so on. Users should protect skin integrity through thorough rinsing of soap and complete drying of hands before wearing gloves.

Able powder free nitrile gloves can be used to assist in minimising exposure of patients and carers to NRL.

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