Exam Gloves Getting Too Thin?

10/14/2008 - Written by the Medical Exam Glove team

As you get ready to see your patient, you routinely reach for a pair of medical exam gloves. To your surprise, as you attempt to don the gloves they rip. Annoyed, you throw out the pair and reach for another pair. Is this a fluke? Later in the day, you might wonder: if the exam gloves can rip, how protected am I?

There is growing concern on how well the medical gloves are manufactured and whether they are regulated enough. The FDA has set requirements on physical properties like thickness, elongation, and tensile strength and routinely examines random shipments coming into the USA to ensure manufactures are adhering to the rules. Almost all medical exam gloves are manufactured in either Southeast Asia or China and unfortunately, the FDA cannot examine every container that enters the U.S. because it is not feasible to do so with its current resources.

Despite arguing whether there is enough regulation, there is growing trepidation that manufactures are intentionally making current medical glove brands thinner in light of the increased cost of natural resources like petroleum and rubber. As costs rise, margins are reduced which creates an incentive for manufacturers to do something about it. Most reputable suppliers of medical gloves employ inspectors who test the quality of gloves ready to be shipped, but given the higher demand for medical exam gloves than supply, they may look the other way.

Won’t these products get caught by the FDA? Maybe. There is a higher chance these medical gloves will slip by the FDA without an inspection. Even if they are flagged for an inspection, these exam gloves may very well pass because they do adhere to FDA standards. Wait, I thought we were saying the medical exam gloves might be thinner, how would these exam gloves still pass? The FDA requires thickness to be .05 mm for nitrile medical exam gloves and most marketed nitrile exam gloves will range from .07 mm to .14 mm in thickness. As you can see, a lot of medical glove specifications will be thicker than the FDA requirement and if the manufacturer can also adhere to the other requirements the FDA sets, the exam gloves are considered to be in compliance. The problem arises when a glove brand’s formulation requires a certain thickness level to maintain the intended protection level.

Many nitrile exam gloves are intended for use for harsh chemicals like chemotherapy drugs. The formulation and the thickness of the medical glove determine how long it takes for chemicals to penetrate the glove. Manufacturers provide data on how well their medical gloves protect against different chemicals. If the exam gloves are being made thinner without the consumer being notified, they may be at serious risk of coming into contact with harsh substances.

This is not to say your manufacturer is cheating you or intentionally trying to cut cost everywhere. There are many other reasons medical rip. The gloves might get caught on something or your nails might cause a tear at the cuff. If you suspect foul play, ask questions. If you have the tools to measure the thickness of exam gloves, you can test the thickness yourself against the manufacturer’s product specification. Medical exam gloves not only protect patients but protect you. Make sure you are using quality exam gloves.


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