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Workplace Solutions | Hand/arm protection

Avoid allergic reactions to latex

June 20, 2013

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For some workers, particularly those in the health care field who wear latex gloves to protect against transmittable diseases, exposure to latex can result in allergic reactions. However, NIOSH notes that housekeepers, hairdressers and employees in industries that manufacture latex products also are at risk for on-the-job latex allergies.

According to NIOSH, mild reactions to latex involve skin redness, rash, hives and itching. More severe reactions can include a runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and asthma. In some cases, a latex allergy can trigger anaphylaxis – a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, warns the Rochester, MN-based Mayo Clinic. If anaphylaxis is not treated as soon as possible, it can lead to unconsciousness or death.

To best protect against latex allergies, NIOSH recommends the following: Use non-latex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials (routine housekeeping, food preparation, general maintenance, etc.).

  • Use appropriate work practices to reduce the chance ofreactions to latex. For example, when wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions, which can cause glove deterioration.
  • Wash hands with a mild soap and dry thoroughly after using latex gloves.
  • Practice good housekeeping. Frequently clean areas and equipment contaminated with latex-containing dust.
  • Take advantage of all latex-allergy education and training provided by your employer and become familiar with procedures for preventing allergic reactions.

To help prevent long-term health effects, NIOSH recommends trying to detect symptoms early, reducing exposure to latex and obtaining medical advice. Some medications may reduce allergy symptoms, but complete latex avoidance – although difficult – is the most effective approach.