Latex and non-latex disposable gloves are indispensable safety tools for a variety of worksites. However, this variety of work gloves can also present problems when individuals who use them experience the uncomfortable symptoms of allergies. Those experiencing such reactions should first receive a proper diagnosis to correctly identify whether the symptoms are indeed an allergy, as well as the likely source of the physical response. When the cause of the reaction has been identified, avoidance of the material and substitution with an alternative should solve the problem and bring soothing relief.
Glove Allergy Symptoms: Latex & Non-Latex
So, how do you know if you’re allergic to latex, one of the most common glove manufacturing materials? Some workers who experience a reaction to this particular textile may have a Type I latex allergy: hypersensitivity to latex proteins. This kind of allergy usually begins within minutes of exposure, but sometimes occurs hours later. It is a systemic allergic reaction, and symptoms commonly include sneezing, runny nose, coughing, scratchy throat, itchy eyes, hives, rashes on the face, swelling and itching of the skin, particularly on the hands. In some cases, the reaction to the latex gloves may also involve more severe reactions, including nausea, abdominal cramps, low blood pressure, dizziness, asthma marked by difficult breathing and, in rare cases, anaphylaxis (shock) and death.
Another glove-related allergy is the Type IV response, or Type IV allergic contact dermatitis. This particular sensitivity manifests itself as itchy, red, small blisters, and, in chronic cases, as dry, thickened skin, crusting and scabbing sores. Luckily, is usually restricted to the areas of contact. Type IV symptoms occur in response to residues from chemical accelerators used in manufacturing both latex and non-latex hand protection, such as neoprene and nitrile gloves.
Some patients present symptoms of both Type I and Type IV reactions, so it is essential to have an accurate diagnosis from a qualified medical professional, such as an allergist or dermatologist, in order to determine the cause of the allergic reaction. Sometimes, the problem is not in fact an allergic reaction at all. For instance, reactions to vinyl gloves are almost never allergic reactions but may be contact urticaria, a simple skin irritation caused by perspiration and lack of ventilation inside the glove. Type I latex allergy and Type IV allergies are diagnosed by symptoms as well as medical history. Additionally, a skin-prick or blood test can determine Type I, and a patch test can determine Type IV.
Latex & Non-Latex Glove Allergy Relief
Successful latex allergy treatment is all about avoidance. Those who have developed this reaction should, as far as possible, prevent all subsequent exposure to the protein. They should wear only non-latex gloves, such as nitrile or vinyl. To better decrease the risk of further reaction, other workers around the allergic individual should also wear non-latex or reduced-protein, powder-free latex gloves. When powdered hand protection is put on or taken off, particles of allergen-laden latex protein powder are released into the air and may be inhaled by those who are allergic, contacting mucous membranes and potentially causing respiratory symptoms. As a general precaution, it is a good idea to avoid using such products altogether. Sensitivity to latex proteins can develop after repeated exposure, and individuals who wear powdered gloves increase their skin’s exposure to those proteins and their potential for experiencing allergic reactions.
In response to concern over Type IV allergic reactions, many manufacturers have introduced accelerator-free products. Some glove brands advertise “Low Dermatitis Potential,” which is regulated for accuracy by the Food and Drug Administration. Those concerned about Type IV allergic reactions may want to seek out such alternatives.
Employers can help prepare for latex and non-latex glove allergies by educating staff about the accompanying signs and symptoms. In the vast majority of cases, allergies to glove material can be easily controlled once the offending allergen or irritant is identified and eliminated. The use of alternative products presents a simple solution to an otherwise troublesome situation.