There has been an increasing incidence of latex sensitivity amongst health care and other workers. Latex sensitivity usually leads to dry, raw skin most commonly on the hands or the irritation of the airways and eyes. Severe allergic reactions can result in sustained dermatitis with blisters and respiratory symptoms, including anaphylaxis.
Latex sensitivity is a particular problem in the health service industry. Nurses, doctors and other health care workers who are frequently exposed to latex products may experience an allergic reaction to the substance. Other workers such as hairdressers and dentists who use disposable latex gloves may also develop sensitivity to latex. Sensitivity to latex can develop over a period of time as a result of frequent exposure to the substance.
Latex is a natural substance produced by the rubber tree and used extensively in the manufacture of rubber products. Although most exposure to latex is through the use of disposable gloves, latex may also be present in other health care products.
Cornstarch powder is often used in latex gloves to make them easier to put on. Latex proteins are absorbed into the powder which irritates the skin causing the allergic reaction. When the gloves are removed the powder can be released into the air and maybe inhaled.
The only way to prevent an allergic reaction to latex is to avoid contact with latex products. The most effective strategy is the provision and use of non-latex gloves. Powder free, low allergen containing gloves are available and should be used wherever possible.
If powder free gloves are not available, steps should be taken to remove latex containing dust through good housekeeping techniques. Workers using gloves containing latex should use good hand washing techniques with anti-microbial soap.
Employers, managers and supervisors should ensure workers at risk of developing latex sensitivity are aware of the hazards associated with exposure to latex. Workers should be trained to recognise the symptoms of latex allergy.