Disposable gloves are an integral part of the health industry and are used in almost every sector of medicine, from hospital care to home care. Whenever dealing with a patient or resident, doctors, nurses, and healthcare specialists are expected to wear disposable gloves, to protect their health and the health of the patient or resident who they are caring for.
According to the World Health Organization, medical gloves are recommended to be worn for two main reasons: 1. ‘To reduce the risk of contamination of health-care workers hands with blood and other body fluids.’, 2. ‘To reduce the risk of germ dissemination to the environment and of transmission from the health-care worker to the patient and vice versa, as well as from one patient to another.’
Since the late 1980s, in the UK the use of gloves in the healthcare industry has become a regular part of medical practice. Gloves help to prevent accidental exposure to bacteria and contractible diseases for both the patient and the caregiver. Gloves are also beneficial for preventing accidental exposure to drugs and harmful chemicals used in medical facilities.
While disposable gloves are a vital resource in facilities such as hospitals and care homes, constant wear can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation to occur. The good news is that these reactions can be prevented, it’s just a case of knowing how to do so.
What causes allergies and irritations to gloves?
Latex products are made from natural rubber. It has been proven that after repeated exposure to this material, allergies and intolerances can occur, leading to skin irritations and other problems. By preventing exposure to latex, the risk of allergic reactions can be reduced.
There are three main types of latex allergies; these are instant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and latex allergy:
- The most common reaction to latex is instant contact dermatitis; this is also the mildest reaction. The symptoms include dry, itchy and irritated skin.
- Allergic contact dermatitis shows up after a period of 24 to 48 hours and looks like the rash that you would get from poison ivy.
- Latex allergy is the most serious of these three reactions; it usually shows up immediately, but can in some instances, have a delayed reaction that occurs within 24 hours of exposure. Symptoms of a mild reaction are skin hives, redness and itching. Symptoms of a more serious reaction include sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. A life-threatening reaction is possible, but this rarely happens when first exposed to latex. Instead, it builds up over time. If a serious reaction occurs, a doctor or ambulance should be called immediately.
What should employers do?
If you are in charge of running a care home or other facility that uses disposable gloves, you are responsible for ensuring that they are used safely, and latex allergies are taken seriously. What you can do to help reduce the risk of latex reactions when carers are carrying out their nursing duties is as follows:
- Provide your team members with non-latex gloves to use in instances where there will be a limited amount of contact with infectious materials.
- Instead of offering your team members latex gloves, vinyl, nitrile and polymer gloves can be a better option.
- Another option is to provide reduced protein, powder-free gloves if latex is the only suitable option.
- Employers should also provide training to their team members regarding latex allergies.
- If any workers display signs of a latex allergy, a prompt evaluation is necessary by a medical professional.
- Offer team members the use of a gentle hand cleanser, such as Dr Harley Skin Wash by NewGenn, which can be used when gloves are removed, to cleanse hands and reduce the risk of dermatitis occurring.
What can team members do?
In addition to steps for employers to take, there are also steps that team members themselves can take. What team members can do to reduce their risk of latex reactions are listed below:
- Team members can choose the gloves that they use wisely, only using latex when necessary. If latex-free gloves aren’t available, team members should request them.
- If latex gloves are the only option, ask for reduced protein, powder-free gloves.
- Avoid using oil-based hand creams when using latex gloves, as these can increase the risk of a reaction.
- After using nursing and the gloves have been removed, make sure to thoroughly wash hands using a mild soap, like the Dr Harley Skin Wash, and dry your hands completely afterwards.
- Know what the symptoms of latex allergy or intolerance are so that you can treat them effectively and prevent symptoms getting worse.
Latex isn’t the only concern
The fact is that when skin irritations and other symptoms occur with glove use, it is essential to realise that latex may not be the cause. Other glove types can also cause reactions. However reactions to nitrile and neoprene are much less common, and reactions to vinyl are almost non-existent.
These reactions are usually type four reactions, which are caused by a different biological pathway to more serious reactions, and only affect the skin directly under the gloves. In many cases with reactions linked to gloves, it is not the material itself, such as the rubber in latex gloves or the nitrile or neoprene, it is additive chemicals. The good news is that gloves that don’t contain these additives are available, so for people who are highly sensitive to these, reactions do not have to occur.
Often, reactions to vinyl gloves and other materials aren’t actually a reaction to the glove. The skin irritation is caused by contact urticaria, which is a skin irritation caused by perspiration and a lack of ventilation inside the glove. To help reduce the risk, sweat absorbing liners can be used. However, adding this additional area makes the gloves less moveable and not as comfortable to wear and use.
If a worker is actually allergic to vinyl gloves, the answer is to swap to natural or synthetic gloves, which use different additives. For instance, if you are allergic to plastic additives, it is unlikely that rubber additives used in latex gloves will cause any problems.
There you have it, a guide to everything that you should know about allergic reactions and skin irritation due to disposable glove use, and how you can prevent them from occurring.