Most people are aware that latex gloves can cause allergies, but did you know that people can actually have three kinds of reactions to latex gloves – one of which isn’t even an allergic reaction at all?
In today’s post, we’re going to break down these three kinds of reactions and explore different ways to prevent them.
Let’s dive right in!
1) IgE-Mediated Allergic Reaction (Type I Immediate Hypersensitivity)
An IgE-mediated allergic reaction is also known as Type I Immediate Hypersensitivity and is the most immediate – and severe – type of reaction to latex that we can experience.
This kind of allergic reaction occurs when the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in our immune system react to different proteins in natural rubber latex. Our IgE antibodies will then mistake latex as a harmful substance and produce allergy symptoms.
Exposure to latex can come in different ways including when latex gloves touch the skin, are in contact with mucous membranes like the mouth or lips, or when latex is breathed in through the lungs.
Symptoms of an IgE-Mediated Allergic Reaction to Latex
Type I allergic reactions set in within minutes or hours after exposure. Symptoms can range from mild to severe including:
- Severe itching
- A runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Breathing problems
- In the worst case, anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening
It’s worth noting that even if you only have a mild symptom at first, you could potentially develop more severe symptoms in the future if you continue to be in contact with products like gloves that contain natural rubber latex.
In fact, people with latex allergies who are consistently exposed to latex may also be at risk of developing chronic conditions including asthma.
2) Allergic Contact Dermatitis (Type IV Delayed Contact Hypersensitivity)
This kind of allergic reaction to latex is less immediate than a Type I allergic reaction and occurs when you experience skin inflammation as a result of contact with latex products.
Unlike Type I latex allergic reactions, allergic contact dermatitis is caused by a sensitivity to the chemicals used to make latex as opposed to rubber latex proteins.
This type of allergic reaction is called “delayed hypersensitivity” because the reaction is more delayed than a Type I allergic reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms usually will set in between 28-48 hours following exposure to latex.
A quick note: If you experience allergic contact dermatitis, it’s likely that you might develop a Type I IgE-mediated allergic reaction in the future. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, every four out of five people who develop an IgE-mediated latex allergy first have allergic contact dermatitis.
Symptoms of Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis causes a rash that looks like poison ivy to appear on the body 1-2 days after latex exposure. The rash can spread to other areas of the body.
You may also experience the following symptoms:
- Oozing blisters
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Itching or burning
3) Irritant Contact Dermatitis
The third reaction you may experience as a result of exposure to latex products – irritant contact dermatitis – isn’t an allergic reaction at all.
Instead, irritant contact dermatitis is caused when your skin’s outer productive layer (the epidermis) is irritated by friction or certain substances in gloves including natural rubber latex and the powder inside latex gloves.
Also, people who have irritant dermatitis may potentially develop actual latex allergies in the future.
Symptoms of Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Like allergic contact dermatitis, the most common symptom of irritant contact dermatitis is a dry, itchy red rash often around the hands. You may also experience symptoms like:
- A burning sensation
- Scaly lesions
- Skin that’s dry or starts to crack
- Swelling of the skin
How to Prevent Latex Allergic Reactions & Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Here are a few steps you can take to prevent latex allergic reactions and irritant contact dermatitis that’s caused by latex exposure whether you’re a regular disposable glove wearer or an employer who provides disposable gloves to your workers.
Latex Allergy & Irritant Contact Dermatitis Prevention Tips for Employees
- First and foremost, consult with a physician, an allergist, or a dermatologist if you experience any symptoms. They will be able to help identify the kind of reaction you are experiencing; if it was caused by exposure to latex; and the best treatment options for you.
- Follow any advice or suggestions from a medical professional. There are best practices anyone can follow, but following advice from a medical professional should always come first.
- Don’t wear latex gloves. Instead, don nitrile, vinyl, or CPE (cast polyethylene) gloves that provide the protection you need for work-specific applications. Omni International carries these alternatives.
- Avoid all products that contain natural rubber latex or may contain natural rubber latex. Latex gloves are only one type of product that causes latex allergies; many other items do, including tires, mousepads, balloons, helmets, and boots. So, checking product labels is a must.
- Ask your coworkers and any healthcare workers you may encounter in your daily life (e.g., doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.) to wear only non-latex gloves. This will prevent further exposure to latex.
- If you have to – or choose to – wear latex gloves, avoid using oil- or petroleum-based creams or lotions when donning the gloves. Also, wash your hands with a mild brand of soap and dry your hands after each use. Creams that have an oil or a petroleum base may deteriorate the barrier properties of the latex gloves and cause them to break down, so it’s best to wear a cream or lotion that is water-based instead. And washing your hands after each glove use – as well as completely drying them – will also provide more protection.
Latex Allergy & Irritant Contact Dermatitis Prevention Tips for Employers
- Supply your employees with non-latex glove types like nitrile, vinyl, or CPE gloves. Thankfully, many glove suppliers, distributors, and manufacturers like Omni International Corp. are offering more and more latex alternatives for different applications.
- If your employees come in contact with infectious materials, provide non-latex gloves that are designed for these kinds of materials. Latex gloves have traditionally been used for applications involving infectious materials because they are stronger and provide superior barrier protection to synthetic brands. However, there are synthetic, non-latex gloves that can be used for contact with infectious materials. Consult with your Omni International sales representative to ensure that you purchase non-latex gloves with the strength and barrier protection your workers need.
- Provide powder free and reduced-protein latex gloves for use with infectious materials. Latex, as a material, is superior to other glove materials, so it’s possible that you might elect to use latex gloves when your employees handle or come in contact with infectious materials. If that’s the case, make sure to provide powder free, reduced-protein gloves. Powder free gloves are less likely to cause allergic reactions because they have a reduced amount of residual proteins.
- Train your employees on latex allergies. Since an estimated 3 million people in the U.S. are allergic to latex, it’s possible that your current or future employees will have a latex allergy. So, educating your employees is very important when it comes to having a safe workforce and a well-informed workforce.
Contact with latex gloves can cause three types of reactions, but by following the steps outlined above, you can prevent latex allergies and irritant contact dermatitis.
Do you have any other questions about latex gloves, latex allergies, or the best non-latex gloves to use? Leave us a comment!
And for more information about latex gloves and other glove questions, head over to our FAQ page!