What You Need to Know About Latex Allergy
Healthcare workers are at risk of developing latex allergy because they use latex gloves frequently. Workers with less glove use (such as housekeepers, hairdressers, and workers in industries that manufacture latex products) are also at risk.
Detecting latex allergy symptoms early, reducing exposure to latex, and obtaining medical advice are important to prevent long-term health effects. Once a worker develops a latex allergy, special precautions are needed to prevent exposures. Certain medications may reduce the latex allergy symptoms; but complete latex avoidance, though quite difficult, is the most effective approach.
The most common reaction to latex products is irritant contact dermatitis -- the development of dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin, usually the hands. This reaction is caused by irritation from wearing gloves and by exposure to the powders added to them. Irritant contact dermatitis is not a true allergy.
Allergic contact dermatitis (sometimes called chemical sensitivity dermatitis) results from the chemicals added to latex during harvesting, processing, or manufacturing. These chemicals can cause a skin rash similar to that of poison ivy. Neither irritant contact dermatitis nor chemical sensitivity dermatitis is a true latex allergy.
Take the following steps to protect yourself from latex exposure and latex allergy in the workplace:
- Use nonlatex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials (food preparation, routine housekeeping, general maintenance, etc.).
- If you choose latex gloves, use powder-free gloves with reduced protein content. Such gloves reduce exposures to latex protein and thus reduce the risk of latex allergy. Remember, appropriate barrier protection is necessary when handling infectious materials.
- Using so-called hypoallergenic latex gloves does not reduce the risk of latex allergy. However, they may reduce reactions to chemical additives in the latex (allergic contact dermatitis).
- Use appropriate work practices to reduce the chance of reactions to latex.
- When wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions (which can cause glove deterioration).
- After removing latex gloves, wash hands with a mild soap and dry thoroughly.
- Practice good housekeeping: frequently clean areas and equipment contaminated with latex-containing dust.
- Take advantage of all latex allergy education and training provided by your employer and become familiar with procedures for preventing latex allergy.
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of latex allergy: skin rash; hives; flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and (rarely) shock.
(Click Latex Allergy Precautions for more information about protection for latex allergy.)