But do nitrile gloves cause allergic reactions as well?
Yes, they can. Some users of nitrile gloves have reported allergic reactions triggered by other antigens in the synthetic material but not by latex proteins, which cause latex allergies. That’s because nitrile gloves do not contain latex proteins (unlike latex gloves).
An antigen is defined as “a substance that is capable of stimulating an immune response, specifically activating lymphocytes, which are the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells.” An allergen is a special kind of antigen that triggers IgE antibody responses and causes allergic reactions.
People who experience allergic reactions to nitrile gloves are usually allergic to the chemical substances called accelerators found in these gloves. Accelerators are chemicals that glove manufacturers use a catalyst to accelerate the process of turning liquid latex into a gel form.
These additional chemicals, which are added in during the manufacturing of nitrile gloves, are added mainly for elasticity and durability.
Glove manufacturers use accelerators during the vulcanization process of nitrile gloves. During this kind of chemical process, manufacturers heat rubber with sulfur to improve the physical properties of natural or synthetic rubber. (Note: Nitrile gloves are made of synthetic rubber.)
Three main kinds of accelerators cause contact dermatitis: carbamates, mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT), and thiurams. Thiuram accelerators cause over 50% of reactions, while carbamates cause about 30%. MBT only causes 1-5% of reactions.
Unlike latex allergies, which can cause more life-threatening allergic reactions, people who are allergic to the accelerators in nitrile gloves usually only experience allergic contact dermatitis (type IV hypersensitivity).
Symptoms of this include hives, blisters, itching, burning, and sensitivity to the sun and usually appear on the body 1-2 days after exposure to nitrile gloves.
It’s also possible for nitrile glove wearers to experience another form of contact dermatitis that isn’t an allergic reaction at all: irritant contact dermatitis. Symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis include blisters, lesions, ulcers, and dry skin.
Have questions about nitrile gloves, allergens, or anything else related to this topic? Please reach out and let us know!