“Our facility needs to become latex-free!” How many times have you heard someone make this statement? Latex-free has become the new trend in the healthcare industry and every day, more and more hospitals are jumping on the bandwagon for one reason… to prevent latex allergies.
The healthcare industry is pushing for a latex-free environment to minimize workers from developing latex related allergies including irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Symptoms range from skin redness to respiratory symptoms and in rare cases shock. As individuals are exposed to latex frequently, they can develop sensitivity and eventually become allergic.
Who Should Be Concerned?
Anyone who has frequent exposure to latex is at risk for developing latex allergy. This means healthcare workers (nurses, physicians, dentists, and laboratory technicians) who wear latex exam gloves are highly affected. About 5-10% of health care providers have developed latex allergy.
Background of Latex Gloves
Latex is made from the sap of rubber trees called Hevea Brasiliensis (Brazilian Rubber). Latex rubber has a milky white appearance and is made of various lipids, phospholipids and proteins. This protein causes allergic reactions to some people who are sensitive to latex.
The use of latex as the preferred material for medical gloves ramped up due to the scare of contracting AIDS or HIV. At the time, latex became the barrier of choice for the medical industry and there was a rush to manufacturer latex gloves as demand soared. As a result, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were sudden increases in reported cases of latex reactions.
The hazards of latex protein were not secret. In fact, the removal of the hazardous protein is one of the steps for manufacturers when creating latex gloves. This process is called leaching which removes water-soluble chemicals and latex protein from the gloves. Unfortunately, this process does not remove all the protein found in latex gloves.
Due to concerns of latex allergies, latex-free glove production has increased. Today, vinyl and nitrile material has become the material of choice for latex-free alternatives. Combined with improved technologies, latex-free gloves have become just as effective, if not more, as latex gloves as a barrier of protection.
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