Protection against latex allergy and irritant

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latex allergyA variety of agents, including some hand protection products, can contribute to contact dermatitis among workers. Contact dermatitis is a major problem for employees in many industries. Dermatitis is most often seen among workers involved in activities such as construction, healthcare and cleaning.

A common factor for these activities is the need for hand protection, primarily in the form of rubber gloves.

When contact dermatitis occurs, the first instinct is to blame it on the gloves.

More often than not, however, the reason for the allergic reaction is not contact with one agent but a combination of rubber and another source.

As more information on the dangers of latex allergies is made available, rubber frequently becomes the prime suspect in cases of work-related dermatitis.

In reality, chemicals such as detergents and cleansers, and metals such as nickel or chromium, could be the culprits, as these irritant agents can and do cause contact dermatitis.

These substances can also react with the rubber in gloves, resulting in varying degrees of skin irritation.

In most cases, gloves can prevent reactions.

But in certain situations they can aggravate a skin condition.

Soap or skin cleansers can also cause contact dermatitis.

Skin cleansers designed for and labeled as 'heavy-duty cleansers' or 'waterless hand cleansers' contain solvents and abrasives.

Meanwhile, liquid soaps contain preservatives.

Reactions can occur if these agents are not fully rinsed off, leaving residues on the skin.

Wearing gloves, or occlusion of the hands, after applying soaps and cleansers can also trap the residues, resulting in the skin being further exposed to the irritant solvents and preservatives.

Meanwhile, chromate sensitisation - resulting from exposure to wet cement - has long been known to cause contact dermatitis among construction workers.

Wearing gloves when handling wet cement can help prevent the condition.

The two allergic reactions discussed above are both irritant contact dermatitis cases, where the allergy itself is not caused by the glove material used but from agents such as chemicals or frequent contact with water.

On the other hand, many healthcare workers are at risk of developing natural rubber latex allergy as a result of the gloves they wear or come into contact with.

In fact, US statistics suggest that between five and 20 per cent of healthcare workers have developed a latex allergy of some sort, often due to repeated exposure.

Latex-related allergy is also one of the most common causes of disability among healthcare professionals.

Allergic reactions to natural latex rubber can occur in varying degrees of severity, ranging from a mildly irritating rash to completely debilitating anaphylactic shock.

There are at least three causes of allergic reactions: natural rubber proteins, glove powder and rubber accelerators.

At first, natural rubber proteins can cause contact dermatitis which may progress with no warning into a Type I allergic reaction (immediate hypersensitivity).

This is a group of disorders in which a rash appears immediately after exposure and fades away within minutes to hours.

The reaction may immediately progress to hives and may spread to other parts of the body especially the face with edema, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, laryngeal edema, difficulty breathing, tachycardia and bronchospasm.

The reaction can be life-threatening.

In fact, latex allergy is listed along with insect stings, medications, shellfish and peanuts as one of the top five causes of life-threatening anaphylaxis.

If the glove is powdered, the proteins which migrate to the surface of the glove material during curing become adhered to the glove powder.

The glove powder, normally cornstarch, with the latex proteins attached can easily become airborne and may then be inhaled.

This will make the situation worse and increase the risk of suffering anaphylaxis.

Meanwhile, rubber accelerators are chemicals used to speed up the manufacturing process of rubber.

These chemical ingredients are present in almost every elastomeric or unsupported glove made.

In particular, the accelerators thiurams, carbamates and benzothiazoles can cause allergic contact dermatitis (Type IV allergic reaction - delayed hypersensitivity).

This type of dermatitis is an itchy skin condition caused by an allergic reaction to a material - for example, natural rubber and nitrile gloves - after chronic skin exposure.

This allergic reaction arises a few hours after exposure and only affects the area the glove material touched.

There are a number of ways to avoid the risk of allergic reactions from gloves.

These include: don't blame an allergic reaction on the gloves alone; search for the true culprit.

Protect yourself with gloves when you are working with irritants - for example, water, chemicals, metal process fluids, cement, hairdressers' products, detergents, food stuffs, epoxy resins, etc; and choose powder-free and accelerator-free nitrile gloves instead of natural rubber gloves.

source Laboratory Talk