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Latex Allergy Threatens Workers

Latex Allergy Threatens Workers

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Latex gloves

These gloves can be deadly

Latex is commonly used in a wide variety of medical and household products. The dramatic increase in the use of gloves after the AIDs epidemic began brought a new threat: severe latex allergies.

Marilee Wickes (fictitious name), a 40-year-old nurse, worked in the emergency department for 20 years. Her allergist had diagnosed her with contact dermatitis and a mild form of asthma 7 years previously.

She developed an allergy to latex. Her symptoms included hives, swelling, wheezing, a running nose and shortness of breath. Her allergist advised her to use non-latex gloves. However, her coworkers continued to use powdered latex gloves.

When her symptoms worsened, her doctors said, “You must stop working in the emergency department.”

She received a new job as a staffing manager, which she performed in the nursing administration offices.

Marilee’s condition continued to get worse until she had to stop working. She became a prisoner in her own home because her symptoms recurred whenever she walked out the door.

What is Latex?

Latex is a substance that is manufactured from a milky fluid that comes from the rubber tree.

It begins as a natural substance and is mixed with chemicals to stabilize it.

There are several types of synthetic rubber that are also called latex, such as latex paint, but these do not release the proteins that cause the allergic reactions typical in a latex allergy.

Up to 17% of healthcare workers develop an allergy to the natural protein in latex. The emphasis on the use of gloves following the development of the AIDS epidemic is believed to have increased the incidence of latex allergies.

What is a Latex Allergy?

Marilee had many of the typical symptoms of latex allergy.

A latex allergy is a reaction to certain proteins in the latex rubber.

The amount of latex exposure needed to produce sensitization or an allergic reaction is not known. We do know that increasing the exposure to latex proteins increases the risk of allergic symptoms.

People who are sensitized may develop symptoms within minutes of exposure, or even hours later.

Reactions may be quite varied. The exposure to latex can come from contact with the skin, eyes, rectum, vagina, mouth, abdominal cavity during surgery, blood, and lungs (through inhalation).

Healthcare Workers At Risk

Healthcare workers are at risk for developing a latex allergy because of frequent use of latex gloves. Nurses, physicians, housekeepers, and dietary workers often use gloves.

Latex particles become fastened to the lubricant powder used in some gloves. Latex particles are released when the gloves are removed.

When workers remove the gloves, the particles become airborne and can be inhaled and carried to the ventilation system. Latex may stay in the air as long as 5 hours after gloves are removed.

Are Latex Gloves Necessary?

Some healthcare workers use latex gloves when they are not necessary. If the worker is not going to be exposed to infectious material, it is not necessary to wear latex gloves.

For example, dietary and housekeeping personnel may not need latex gloves. If a dietary worker wears latex gloves and handles items on a food tray sent to a latex-allergic patient, the patient may have a reaction.

If you use latex gloves, avoid the use of oil based creams and lotions, which cause the glove to deteriorate. Wash your hands with a mild soap and dry thoroughly after removing the gloves. This helps to reduce the powder and latex remaining on the skin.

Latex allergy

Latex is found in masks

Articles Containing Latex

In addition to latex gloves, latex is also found in intravenous tubing, catheters, syringes, blood pressure cuffs, masks, pads, ventilators, carpeting, tires, erasers, balloons, pacifiers, teething toys, rubber bands, rubber toys and parts, elastic in clothing, handles on tools, bikes and racquets, adult diapers, condoms, diaphragms, rug mats, bath mats, and dental dams as well as other products.

Besides healthcare workers, who else is at risk?

  • Anyone working in the latex rubber industry, making tires, rubber and gloves
  • Housekeeping staff outside of healthcare facilities
  • Firefighters
  • Law enforcement professionals
  • Funeral home employees
  • Hairdressers
  • Child care workers
  • Gardeners
  • Laundry workers
  • Food service workers
  • People with a history of worsening allergic reactions to foods known to cross react with a latex allergy

In part 2, I will describe the symptoms and what an employer should do to protect workers who are allergic to latex. In part 3, I discuss the medical malpractice aspects of latex allergies.

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

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