The use of gloves during medical examination protects healthcare professionals from biochemical hazards, contamination hazards, and transmissible diseases. Something as unnoticeable as minuscule cuts and scrapes on the skin can serve as an entry point for blood-borne pathogens and hence the use of medical-grade gloves is critical to protect healthcare workers. Ever since they were first commercially manufactured in 1964 by Ansell, disposable latex gloves have played a pivotal role in reducing the transmission of diseases in the healthcare industry. Latex gloves have been the gloves of choice for clinicians and healthcare professionals for a very long period. They fit snugly like a second skin, have high touch sensitivity, work well for infectious environments, have high elasticity, provide chemical and puncture resistance, and are highly cost-effective. Although Latex gloves provide the first line of defense against several transmissible diseases and biochemical hazards, their prolonged use slowly came to be associated with allergic reactions in some users. As latex is derived from the sap of Hevea brasiliensis, it contains natural proteins that can trigger several allergic reactions. Latex has over 250 different types of proteins and approximately 20 % of them are known to be allergenic. In the late 1980s and 1990s, latex allergies were starting to be recognized as a hazard for working in the healthcare space. Today, there are approximately 13 million people worldwide known to have latex allergies. Prolonged exposure to latex is assumed to be the primary reason for the tremendous rise in the number of people allergic to latex. Some of the major risks and symptoms associated with the use of latex gloves include chafing, cracking, burning, and itching of skin, urticaria, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, among several others. The skin’s reaction to latex gloves varies in different individuals. There are four major types of adverse skin reactions –
- Type 1 latex allergy - This response is generated in reaction to the residual proteins that are found in latex. Itching, burning, swelling, and redness are common symptoms associated with skin's reaction to latex. The symptoms may be accompanied by urticaria, conjunctivitis, bronchial obstruction, and rhinitis. These symptoms can develop within minutes to hours of coming in contact with the latex material.
- Delayed-Type IV Response Delayed Hypersensitivity – This is a reaction to the chemical residues used in the manufacturing of the gloves. The common symptoms of this response include erythema, cracking, itching, and dryness.
- Irritant Contact Dermatitis is caused by the chemicals and accelerators present in gloves and leads to dryness, crusty bumps, chafing, scaling, cracking, and redness where latex has been in prolonged contact with the skin. The symptoms usually occur within minutes of coming in contact with latex gloves.
- Glove Powder Irritations – Modern gloves use modified corn starch to make it easier to wear and remove. This powder reduces friction and prevents the glove from adhering to the skin. Glove powder is known to be a possible carrier of latex proteins and chemical accelerators. Its introduction inside the body is known to impair a number of physiological functions including contamination of implants and transplanted organs, impaired ocular function, and contamination of drug preparations. This powder can also lead to granulomas, inflammation, and adhesions. Inhalation of this powder may also lead to upper respiratory tract inflammation and infections.