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Latex Allergy Advisory

OSHA now recommends limiting health care workers' exposure to latex by wearing latex gloves only in situations that call for them, such as when protection from infectious agents is required. When performing housekeeping duties, wear non-latex gloves. OSHA's bulletin states that the two main routes of exposure to latex are through inhalation and skin contact, and recommends that you select latex gloves with a low protein content and avoid powdered gloves. Finally, OSHA says to offer allergic workers non-latex gloves that have been cleared by the FDA for medical use.

Establish common-sense precautions for your practice to prevent both employee and patient reactions to latex. Begin by making a list of latex-containing products and suitable alternatives (for both patients and workers). Gloves are not the only items in medical practices that contain latex. Remember to include supplies such as adhesive tape, stethoscope tubing, disposable syringes and blood pressure cuffs.

To prevent staff members from developing latex allergies, consider substituting latex-free gloves (vinyl, nitrile, neoprene, etc.) or switch to low-allergen, non-powdered gloves. Mandate non-latex gloves for maintenance and housekeeping tasks.

You may wish to develop a latex sensitivity questionnaire to screen high-risk workers for symptoms and begin early control measures. If you or another staff member is sensitive to latex, consider the following:

  • Double glove, using vinyl next to the skin
  • Use cloth or nylon glove liners
  • Use lipid-barrier hand creams before gloving
  • Get medical treatment but be aware that it may disguise increasing sensitization to latex
  • Get a medical alert tag or bracelet if you have severe symptoms
  • Finally, have epinephrine and resuscitation equipment immediately available for those with Type 1 (severe, life threatening anaphylactic) reactions.

For detailed guidance in developing protocol for latex sensitivity, contact:
1. National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) @ 800-356-4674. Order free publication # DHHS (NIOSH) 97-135 or http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/latexall.html .
2. American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (847) 692-7050 (x3009) or http://www.aana.com .
3. Draft Guidelines for Infection Control in Health Care Personnel. Federal Register, Volume 62, Number 173. September 8, 1997.

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