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Environmental Health & Safety

General Guidelines for Reducing Employee Exposure to Latex

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Allergy to latex was first recognized in the late 1970s. Since then, it has become a major health concern as an increased number of people in the workplace are affected. Health care workers who are exposed frequently to gloves or medical products containing latex are at risk. It is estimated that 8-12% of health care workers are latex sensitive. Workers in other industries such as food service and housekeeping may also be at high risk if latex gloves are in frequent use.

The term "latex" refers to the natural rubber latex manufactured from a milky fluid that is obtained from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). Some synthetic rubber materials may be referred to as "latex" but do not contain the natural rubber proteins responsible for latex allergy symptoms.

A wide variety of products contain latex including medical supplies, personal protective equipment and numerous household objects. Latex-free alternatives for many products including medical supplies are becoming more prevalent in the marketplace. The standard glove in use at URMC is nitrile, greatly reducing the frequency of latex contact in our workplace. Reducing exposure is key to reducing allergy prevalence.

The two major routes of occupational exposure are dermal contact and inhalation. The following guidelines are intended to reduce employee exposure to latex.

  1. Choose nitrile gloves for barrier protection. If latex gloves are necessary, choose powder-free latex. Posder increases the likelihood of latex inhalation.
  2. Vinyl gloves may be worn when there is little potential for contact with infectious or hazardous materials, for example, in food-service.
  3. Substitute latex-free products whenever possible. Example of such products include medication vial tops, dental dams, catheters and balloons.
  4. Recognize symptoms of latex allergy: skin rashes, hives, flushing, itching, nasal or sinus symptoms, asthma and shock.
  5. Individuals who develop symptoms of latex allergy should be seen by a medical professional experienced in diagnosing latex allergy. Contact your University Healthcare Provider (Occupational and Environmental Medicine or University Health Services) for medical attention.

Types of reactions to products containin latex:

  • Irritant Contact Dermatitis - the development of dry, itchy, irritated skin (usually hands) is the most common reaction to latex products. The reaction may be caused by gloves or repeated hand washing, by using cleansers or sanitzers, and by exposure to glove powders. Irritant contact dermatitis is not a true allergy.
  • Chemical Sensitivity Dermatitis - an allergic contact dermatitis (delayed hypersensitivity) which results from exposure to the chemicals added to latex during harvesting, processing, or manufacturing. A rash usually begins 24-48 hours after contact and may progress to oozing blisters or spread away from the area of skin touched by latex (like poison ivy).
  • Latex Allergy - immediate hypersensitivity reactions usually occur within minutes of exposure, but can occur hours after contact. The symptoms may range from mild (skin redness, hives, or itching) to severe (runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, asthma) to most severe (shock - rare). Routes of exposure include both inhalation and dermal contact.

References


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This page last updated 5/31/2012. Disclaimer.