There is a growing epidemic of workers developing allergic reactions to natural rubber latex. In 1995, the American College of Allergy and Immunology called latex protein toxic syndrome (latex allergy) an epidemic.

The probable reason for the recent explosion in latex allergies is the increased reliance on latex gloves to protect against AIDS and other infectious diseases. The problem with the latex gloves is that the proteins responsible for the latex allergies attach themselves to powder that is used in latex gloves. When the powdered gloves are worn, more latex proteins reach the worker’s skin.

Once a worker is exposed to latex, they may develop latex allergy (sensitivity to latex). Reactions may include skin redness, hives, and itching, as well as respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and itching eyes, or asthma. Once sensitized, a person may become highly reactive or sensitive to any product containing latex or rubber.

While health care workers, such as physicians and nurses, are at increased risk, others are also at risk, including law enforcement personnel, painters, gardeners, food service workers, and even housekeeping personnel who use latex gloves.

Latex allergy syndrome is preventable. Manufacturers of latex gloves have the capability to reduce the amount of proteins in latex gloves by eliminating the use of cornstarch and other powders.

Employers can also help protect their employees by providing workers with non-latex gloves when there is little potential for contact with infectious materials and by providing the workers with reduced protein, powder-free gloves. Employers should also warn workers not to use oil-based hand creams or lotions which may cause latex glove deterioration and to wash their hands after wearing latex gloves.

Originally, latex gloves were designed to protect workers. Unfortunately, like any other product, when they are improperly manufactured or sold to workers without proper warnings or instructions for safe use, they can and will injure the very workers they were designed to protect.

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