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Latex Gloves vs. Nitrile Gloves

By Pam West
VP of Clinical and Regulatory Compliance & Wound Care Certified Nurse

What's the best fit for your facility?

It's a debate that has been going on in health care for years - latex or nitrile? Research has shown that latex-sensitive individuals can develop serious complications from exposure to latex. In the healthcare arena, latex gloves are of particular concern.

Even with an abundance of information on the risks posed by latex, some facilities have been reluctant to abandon latex gloves. The goal of this article is to educate you on the features and benefits of these two products, giving you the wisdom to know the difference.

What's the problem with latex?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), healthcare workers are at an increased risk of developing latex allergies due to their use of latex gloves. Of healthcare workers who experience frequent latex exposure, between 8 and 12 percent develop a latex sensitivity, which can lead to skin rashes, hives, asthma, nasal, eye or sinus symptoms and even shock.1 In addition to healthcare workers, it is estimated that between 1 and 6 percent of the general population - including long-term care residents - are sensitized to latex.2

Latex allergies are caused by a reaction to certain proteins in latex rubber. Experts aren't sure exactly how much exposure is required to produce sensitization or allergic reactions. Symptoms usually begin within minutes of exposure but can also occur hours later and vary greatly from individual to individual.3 At this time, there is no "cure" for latex allergy other than eliminating exposure to latex products.

Latex exposure isn't limited to skin contact. Research has found that latex proteins become fastened to the lubricant powder used on some gloves. When healthcare workers change their gloves, these protein/powder particles become airborne and can be inhaled.3

Latex allergy can be a costly problem to address. It can cost between $5,000 and $25,000 to treat just one anaphylactic episode resulting from latex allergy. On average, the overall cost to treat latex allergy is estimated at $218,000 per employee.4

To give latex gloves credit, they've done a great job of preventing the transmission of many infectious diseases to healthcare workers. But recent years have shown an increase in reports of allergic reactions to latex, especially among healthcare workers.3 The big question facilities are facing is whether it makes sense to continue using latex gloves when there is an available alternative - nitrile gloves.

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