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Dealing with Latex Allergies

July 25, 2022

Without a doubt, latex gloves have their benefits. They prevent skin contact with harmful cleaning chemicals. They can also be very effective in preventing transmission of many infectious diseases. Many cleaning professionals wouldn’t work without them—and don’t give wearing them a second thought.

But for those with latex allergies, the use of latex gloves means running the risk of developing rashes, hives, or itching. More severe reactions could involve respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, or even asthma. In rare cases, shock can occur.

While latex gloves are commonly used in the cleaning industry, it’s important to remember that latex allergies are also common, making the use of such gloves problematic. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it’s estimated that as many as 12% of all health care workers are latex sensitive. Between 1988 and 1992, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) received more than 1,000 reports of adverse health effects from exposure to latex, including 15 deaths due to such exposure.

Preventing latex allergic reactions

To reduce latex allergy exposures in the workplace, preventative measures should be implemented to ensure worker safety. Here are some ways you can be proactive with latex allergy prevention:

  • Use nonlatex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials, such as food preparation, routine housekeeping, and maintenance.
  • If latex gloves are worn for appropriate barrier protection, such as handling infectious materials, choose powder-free gloves that have a reduced protein content.
  • When wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions (which can cause glove deterioration), unless they have been shown to reduce latex-related problems and maintain glove barrier protection.
  • Frequently clean work areas contaminated with latex dust (this could include upholstery, carpets, or ventilation ducts).
  • Frequently change the ventilation filters and vacuum bags used in latex-contaminated areas.

Addressing latex allergy symptoms

For those who have latex allergy and its symptoms, consider the following steps:

  • Upon developing latex allergy symptoms, a person should avoid direct contact with latex gloves and products until a physician experienced in treating latex allergy can be seen.
  • Those allergic to latex should avoid areas where it’s possible to inhale the powder from the latex gloves worn by others.
  • Encourage allergic workers to wear a medical alert bracelet, which can make others, especially medical emergency response professionals, aware of their latex allergy if they are unable to communicate so themselves.

Taking such steps can contribute to the reduction of exposure to workers, as well as avoiding the risk for the development of a latex allergy in the future.

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