Latex Allergies and Reactions
Concern over public health issues and the need for occupational personal protective equipment has increased the use of latex gloves. In the past several years, this increase has resulted in high reports of latex reactions. Most reactions are not serious and can be prevented, but for some individuals, exposure to latex can be life threatening.
A wide variety of products contain latex including emergency medical equipment, personal protective equipment, office supplies, hospital supplies and numerous household objects. Most people who encounter latex products through general use have no health problems.
People with ongoing latex exposure are at a high risk for developing latex reactions. Included in this category are health care workers who frequently use latex gloves and other latex-containing medical supplies. Also at risk are workers with less frequent latex glove use like hairdressers, housekeepers, etc. and workers in industries that manufacture latex products. People with spina bifida are also at an increased risk.
Latex Allergies, Symptoms and Reactions
Three types of reactions can occur in persons using latex products: irritant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis and latex allergy.
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common reaction to latex products. It is not a true allergy. Irritant contact dermatitis is characterized by dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin, usually the hands. This reaction is caused by using gloves and possibly by exposure to other workplace chemicals. It can also result from repeated hand washing and drying, incomplete hand drying, and exposure to powders added to the gloves.
Allergic contact dermatitis, sometimes called delayed hypersensitivity or chemical sensitivity dermatitis, results from exposure to the chemicals that are added to the natural rubber latex during harvesting, processing or manufacturing. These chemicals can cause latex reactions similar to those caused by poison ivy. The rash usually begins 24 to 48 hours after contact and may progress to oozing skin blisters or spread away from the original contact area.
Latex allergy (immediate hypersensitivity) is the most serious reaction to latex. Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure, but they can occur hours later and can produce various symptoms. Mild reactions involve skin redness, hives or itching. More severe latex allergies may casue respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, difficult breathing, coughing spells and wheezing. Although rare, shock may occur.
The amount of latex exposure needed to produce an allergic reaction is unknown. However, studies of other allergy-causing substances show that the higher the overall exposure, the greater likelihood that more will become sensitive.
Preventing Allergic Reactions
Workers with ongoing exposure to latex should take the following precautions:
- Use non-latex gloves when possible. Options can be vinyl or nitrile gloves
- When using latex gloves, choose powder-free gloves with reduced protein content
- When wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions, they may cause glove deterioration
- Frequently clean work areas that may be contaminated with latex dust
- Frequently change ventilation filters and vacuum bags that are used in latex-contaminated areas
- Recognize the symptoms of latex allergies
- Avoid direct contact with latex gloves and products if you develop symptoms of latex allergies, seek medical attention
- If you have a latex allergy, follow your physician's instructions
- Actively participate in latex allergies and reactions training and education
Click here for additional information about latex allergies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at www.grainger.com/quicktips.
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The content in this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific compliance questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.
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