What are disposable gloves used for in laboratory situations?
Essentially for 1 of 2 purposes;
- To protect the wearer from contact with potentially damaging chemical
or biological materials. For chemical protection the wearer should determine
the appropriate glove material to provide the desired protection. Some
chemicals will rapidly penetrate some glove materials, negating any
perceived protection. Reference to the University of Bristol Chemistry
will introduce readers to the subject.
- to protect sensitive work (e.g. biological material or electronic
components) from contamination emanating from the worker (e.g. sweat
and sloughed skin cells).
Background to the latex problem.
Allergic reactions to exposure to natural rubber latex (NRL)
have increased significantly over the last ten years, particularly within
healthcare occupations. In January 2005 the Health and Safety Executive
(HSE) updated their information and advice on http://www.hse.gov.uk/latex/index.htm
including a page for lab workers (http://www.hse.gov.uk/latex/labs.htm).
The HSE have published a useful leaflet "Latex and You" available on the
web in .pdf format at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg320.pdf
For a detailed and excellent review of the latex glove allergy
problem readers are referred to the American NIOSH Alert ; Preventing
Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace (DHHS (NIOSH)
Publication No. 97-135, June 1997) and available on the web at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/latexalt.html
The Ansell Edmont site also has some information; http://www.ansell-edmont.com/download/Ansell_7thEditionChemicalResistanceGuide.pdf
These pages were produced for the nursing profession; http://diannebrownson.tripod.com/latex.html
Another useful page from the American Chemical Society; http://pubs.acs.org/hotartcl/chas/97/novdec/latex.html.
This describes the sobering chemical exposure incident through a latex
glove which lead to the death of lab worker Karen Wetterhahn in 1997.
- Disposable powdered latex gloves have been widely used for some
time in medical and laboratory applications.
- Latex was the first material developed for use in disposable gloves.
Latex proteins can cause sensitisation in exposed individuals. This
allergic response can, in rare cases, lead to the life-threatening
condition known as anaphylactic
- According to the American FDA statistics, anywhere from 5 to 20
percent of health care workers have developed some sort of allergy
to latex, thanks in part to repeated contact. Non-latex alternatives
are available but have a shorter shelf life. Their pros and cons are
described in an attached table.
- The powder (often cornstarch) used in powdered gloves is there to
facilitate easier donning and removal of the gloves.
- When powdered gloves are removed from the workers hands, the cornstarch
containing the allergenic latex proteins is scattered into the air.
The sensitized person does not even need to be wearing the gloves
to be exposed - just being near someone who is removing gloves could
cause a reaction.
- Unpowdered latex gloves are available.
- There are other types of disposable glove material
commonly available (such as vinyl (PVC) and nitrile).
What is latex and why does it cause a problem?
- Latex products are manufactured from a milky fluid derived from
the rubber tree.
- Some proteins in natural rubber latex can cause a range of mild
to severe allergic reactions. Total protein serves as a useful indicator
of the exposure of concern [Beezhold et al.
- Several types of synthetic rubber are also referred to as "latex,"
but these do not release the proteins that cause allergic reactions.
- A wide variety of products contain latex: medical supplies, personal
protective equipment, and numerous household objects.
- Most people who encounter latex products only through their general
use in society have no health problems from the use of these products.
- Workers who repeatedly use latex products are the focus of this
Types of reactions to latex.
Three types of reactions can occur in persons using latex products:
Irritant Contact Dermatitis. This
is the most common reaction to latex products -- the development of
dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin, usually the hands, caused by
using gloves. The reaction can also result from repeated hand washing
and drying, incomplete hand drying, use of cleaners and sanitisers,
and exposure to powders added to the gloves. Irritant contact dermatitis
is not a true allergy.
Allergic contact dermatitis (delayed
hypersensitivity) results from exposure to chemicals added to latex
during harvesting, processing, or manufacturing. The rash usually begins
24 to 48 hours after contact and may progress to oozing skin blisters
or spread away from the area of skin touched by the latex.
Latex Allergy (or immediate hypersensitivity)
can be a more serious reaction to latex than irritant contact dermatitis
or allergic contact dermatitis. Certain proteins in latex may cause
sensitisation (positive blood or skin test, with or without symptoms).
Although the amount of exposure needed to cause sensitisation or symptoms
is not known, exposures at even very low levels can trigger allergic
reactions in some sensitised individuals. Reactions usually begin within
minutes of exposure to latex, but they can occur hours later and can
produce various symptoms. Mild reactions to latex involve skin redness,
hives, or itching. More severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms
such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and asthma
(difficult breathing, coughing spells, and wheezing). Rarely, anaphylactic
shock may occur, but such a life-threatening reaction is seldom
the first sign of latex allergy. Such reactions are similar to those
seen in some allergic persons after a bee sting.
Levels and routes of exposure.
Studies of other allergy-causing substances provide evidence that
the higher the overall exposure in a population, the greater the likelihood
that more individuals will become sensitised [Venables
and Chan-Yeung 1997]. The amount of latex exposure needed
to produce sensitisation or an allergic reaction is unknown; however,
reductions in exposure to latex proteins have been reported to be associated
with decreased sensitisation and symptoms [Tarlo
et al. 1994; Hunt et al. 1996].
The proteins responsible for latex allergies have been shown to fasten
to powder that is used on some latex gloves. When powdered gloves are
worn, more latex protein reaches the skin. Also, when gloves are changed,
latex protein/powder particles get into the air, where they can be inhaled
and contact body membranes [Heilman
et al. 1996]. In contrast,
work areas where only powder-free gloves are used show low levels or undetectable
amounts of the allergy-causing proteins [Tarlo
1994; Swanson et al. 1994].
Wearing latex gloves during episodes of hand dermatitis may increase skin
exposure and the risk of developing latex allergy. The risk of progression
from skin rash to more serious reactions is unknown. However, a skin rash
may be the first sign that a worker has become allergic to latex and that
more serious reactions could occur with continuing exposure [Kelly
et al. 1996].
Who is at risk?
- Workers with ongoing latex exposure are at risk of developing latex
allergy. Such people include laboratory workers who frequently
use latex gloves.
- Atopic individuals (persons with a tendency to have multiple
allergic conditions) are at increased risk for developing latex allergy.
- Latex allergy is also associated with allergies to certain foods
especially avocado, potato, banana, tomato, chestnuts, kiwi fruit, and
papaya. [Blanco et al. 1994; Beezhold et al. 1996b].
- People with spina bifida are also at increased risk for latex
How common is latex allergy?
Reports about the prevalence of latex allergy vary greatly.
This variation is probably due to different levels of exposure and methods
for estimating latex sensitisation or allergy. Recent reports in the scientific
literature indicate that from about 1% to 6% of the general population
and about 8% to 12% of regularly exposed health care workers are sensitised
to latex [Kelly et al. 1996; Katelaris et al. 1996;
Liss et al. 1997; Ownby et al. 1996; Sussman and Beezhold 1995].
Among sensitised workers, a variable proportion have symptoms or signs
of latex allergy. For example, one study of exposed hospital workers found
that 54% of those sensitised had latex asthma, with an overall prevalence
of latex asthma of 2.5% [Vandenplas et al. 1995].
Prevalence rates up to 11% are reported for non-health care workers exposed
to latex at work [van der Walle and Brunsveld 1995;
Nasuruddin et al. 1993; Orfan et al. 1994; Tarlo et al. 1990].
Is there any need for anyone to insist on using
disposable latex gloves?
The best choice for resistance to some chemicals (e.g. methanol and ketones
such as acetone) is latex. However, there are few other chemical applications
where latex is the preferred choice. Nitrile gloves are generally the
material of choice.
The University of Bath Health and Safety Committee decided, on 11th
July 2000, to phase out the use of POWDERED
disposable latex gloves as soon as possible and to prohibit their use,
as far as possible, from 1st January 2001.
The following recommendations for preventing latex allergy in the workplace
are based on current knowledge and a common-sense approach to minimising
latex-related health problems. Evolving manufacturing technology and improvements
in measurement methods may lead to changes in these recommendations in
the future. For now, adoption of the recommendations wherever feasible
will contribute to the reduction of exposure and risk for the development
of latex allergy.
Recommendations for Departments
- Inform workers of the potential problems with latex allergy and provide
them with relevant information.
- Provide workers with both non-latex gloves and powder-free
low-protein latex disposable gloves. Supervisors and workers must
determine the most effective glove for the purpose.
- Ask the university Occupational Health Service (OH@bath.ac.uk,
based in the Medical Centre, ext. 6190) to screen high-risk workers
for latex allergy symptoms. Detecting symptoms early and removing symptomatic
workers from latex exposure are essential for preventing long-term health
- Evaluate current prevention strategies whenever a worker is diagnosed
with latex allergy.
Recommendations for Workers
Workers should take the following steps to protect themselves from latex
exposure and allergy in the workplace:
- If appropriate, use non-latex gloves. If latex is the preferred choice
then ensure you are using non-powdered low-protein latex gloves.
- Use appropriate work practices to reduce the chance of reactions
When wearing latex gloves do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions
(which can cause glove deterioration) unless they have been shown to reduce
latex-related problems and maintain glove barrier protection.
PRE-GLOVE is such a commercially-available barrier and is available from
After removing latex gloves, wash hands with a mild soap and dry thoroughly.
- Take advantage of latex allergy education and training provided by
Become familiar with procedures for preventing latex allergy.
Learn to recognise the symptoms of latex allergy: skin rashes; hives;
flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and shock.
- If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, avoid direct contact with
latex gloves and other latex-containing products until you can see a
medical practitioner experienced in treating latex allergy. Inform
your supervisor and the Departmental
- If you have latex allergy, consult your doctor regarding the following
Avoid contact with latex gloves and other
Avoid areas where you might inhale the powder from latex gloves
worn by other workers.
Tell your employer and your health care providers (doctors, nurses,
dentists, etc.) that you have latex allergy.
Wear a medical alert bracelet.
Carefully follow your doctor's instructions for dealing with allergic
reactions to latex.
Using the correct glove material
Check the data available at Ansell-Edmont; http://www.ansell-edmont.com/download/Ansell_7thEditionChemicalResistanceGuide.pdf
and Best ; http://www.chemrest.com/
Reference to the University of Bristol Chemistry page (http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/safety/gloves.htm)
also has some useful links.
Natural LATEX Rubber
- Combines relatively high strength with moderate
flexibility and resistance to abrasions and cuts.
- Generally an economical choice.
|Unsuitable for handling mineral-based
solvents or some acids.
NITRILE (Acrylonitrile, Butadiene or NBR)
- Gloves with higher acrylonitrile (AN) content
provide good resistance to aliphatic solvents. Available at two levels
of solvent resistance, high and low AN content.
- High AN offers good resistance to aliphatic
solvents and limited protection against some of the chlorinated solvents.
- Both types have good resistance to oils, grease
and animal fats.
- Good mechanical strength and abrasion resistance.
|Rapidly degraded by ketones
(MEK, MIBK, Acetone, EK), dichloromethane and some other organic solvents.
PVC (Polyvinyl chloride or just "VINYL")
- Moderate protection against acids, alkalis
and aqueous chemical solutions.
- Resistant to oils and grease and good resistance
|Cold weather or contact with
mineral solutions makes PVC inflexible and liable to crack.
Offers no resistance to ketones and some other solvents.
Commercial sources of disposable
gloves (updated 25/01/2005)
||Price (box of 100) excluding VAT
Safeskin - powder-free purple Nitrile - X-small - SAR-690-010S
Safeskin - powder-free purple Nitrile - small - SAR-690-030M
Safeskin - powder-free purple Nitrile - medium - SAR-690-050G
Safeskin - powder-free purple Nitrile - large - SAR-690-070A
Safeskin - powder-free purple Nitrile - X-large - SAR-690-090R
Conform - powder-free Latex - small - SAR-515-010G
Conform - powder-free Latex - medium - SAR-515-020D
Conform - powder-free Latex - large - SAR-515-030A
Semperguard - powder-free Latex - X-small - X12150
Semperguard - powder-free Latex - small - X12130
Semperguard - powder-free Latex - medium - X12135
Semperguard - powder-free Latex - large - X12140
Semperguard - powder-free Vinyl - small -SAR-747-030U
Semperguard - powder-free Vinyl - medium - SAR-747-050X
Semperguard - powder-free Vinyl - large - SAR-747-070Y
Marigold yellow - ?- small -3032414
Marigold yellow - ? - medium - 3032420
Marigold yellow - ? - large - 3032437
Marigold yellow - ? - X-large - 3032443
|0.66 per pair (VAT incl)
0.76 per pair
0.69 per pair
0.66 per pair
- Beezhold D, Pugh B, Liss G, Sussman G. [1996a] Correlation
of protein levels with skin prick test reactions in patients allergic
to latex. J Allergy and Clin Immunol 98 (6):1097-102.
- Beezhold DH, Sussman GL, Liss GM, Chang NS [1996b].
Latex allergy can induce clinical reactions to specific foods. Clin
Exp Allergy 26:416-422.
- Blanco C, Carrillo T, Castillo R, Quiralte J, Cuevas
M . Latex allergy: clinical features and cross-reactivity
with fruits. Ann Allergy 73:309-314.
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
. Recommendations for prevention of HIV transmission in health-care
settings. MMWR 36(S2).
- Heilman DK, Jones RT, Swanson MC, Yunginger JW .
A prospective, controlled study showing that rubber gloves are the
major contributor to latex aeroallergen levels in the operating
room. J Allergy Clin Immunol 98(2):325-330.
- Hunt LW, Boone-Orke JL, Fransway AF, Fremstad CE,
Jones RT, Swanson MC, et al. . A medical-center-wide, multidisciplinary
approach to the problem of natural rubber latex allergy. JOEM 38(8):765-770.
- Katelaris CH, Widmer RP, Lazarus RM . Prevalence
of latex allergy in a dental school. Med J Australia 164:711-714.
- Kelly KJ, Sussman G, Fink JN . Stop the sensitization.
J Allergy Clin Immunol 98(5): 857-858.
- Liss GM, Sussman GL, Deal K, Brown S, Cividino M,
Siu S, et al. . Latex allergy: epidemiological study of hospital
workers. Occup Environ Med 54:335-342.
- Nasuruddin BA, Shahnaz M, Azizah MR, Hasma H, Mok
KL, Esah Y, et al. . Prevalence study of type I latex hypersensitivity
among high risk groups in the Malaysian population. A preliminary
report. Unpublished paper presented at the Latex Allergy Workshop,
International Rubber Technology Conference, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,
- Orfan NA, Reed R, Dykewicz MS, Ganz M, Kolski GB
. Occupational asthma in a latex doll manufacturing plant.
J Allergy Clin Immunol 94(5):826-830.
- Ownby DR, Ownby HE, McCullough J, Shafer, AW .
The prevalence of anti-latex lgE antibodies in 1000 volunteer blood
donors. J Allergy Clin Immunol 97(6):1188-1192.
- Sussman GL, Beezhold DH . Allergy to latex
rubber. Ann Intern Med 122: 43-46.
- Swanson MC, Bubak ME, Hunt LW, Yunginger JW, Warner
MA, Reed CE . Quantification of occupational latex aeroallergens
in a medical center. J Allergy Clin Immunol 94(3): 445-551.
- Tarlo SM, Sussman G, Contala A, Swanson MC .
Control of airborne latex by use of powder-free latex gloves. J
Allergy Clin Immunol 93: 985-989.
- Tarlo SM, Wong L, Roos J, Booth N . Occupational
asthma caused by latex in a surgical glove manufacturing plant.
J Allergy Clin Immunol 85(3):626-631.
- van der Walle HB, Brunsveld VM . Latex allergy
among hairdressers. Contact Dermatitis 32:177-178.
- Vandenplas O, Delwiche JP, Evrared G, Aimont P,
Van Der Brempt S, Jamart J, Delaunois L . Prevalence of occupational
asthma due to latex among hospital personnel. Am J Respir Crit Care
- Venables K, Chan-Yeung M . Occupational asthma.
The Lancet 349:1465-1469.
This document was originally drafted by Peter Jewell in July 2000.