Latex, or Natural Rubber Latex (NRL), is a naturally occurring milky fluid, mostly originating from the Havia Brasillientes tree in South East Asia. Some of the proteins contained within the fluid can be irritants and many people can be allergic to them.
What products contain latex?
The list of items which contain latex includes gloves worn as PPE. Many industries have barrier gloves to protect workers from other harmful substances. Unfortunately, after prolonged exposure, some people will develop reactions to the gloves themselves.
Many other products may contain latex, these include, but are certainly not limited to, balloons, rubber bands, shoes, carpet backing, some baby bottle teats, condoms, handles on tools and sports rackets and paint.
The health and social care industry is particularly prone to workers suffering adverse reactions to latex. So many people working in this industry are expected to spend long periods wearing protective barrier gloves.
What are the risks?
The proteins in natural rubber latex have been found to be the cause of skin complaints such as dermatitis as well as respiratory conditions, including asthma. Anaphylaxis is a more rare but extremely dangerous reaction to latex.
Research hasn’t managed to set a level at which someone becomes sensitised to latex and so it is very difficult to manage. Allergic reactions are much more likely once a worker has been sensitised.
Typical reactions resulting from exposure to latex, particularly single use NRL gloves include:
- Irritation. Irritant contact dermatitis may well be caused by a combination of chemicals used in the manufacture of protective gloves and other equipment. The latex is an allergen rather than an irritant, so may only be a contributory factor if the wearer is suffering. Once the product responsible is identified, an alternative piece of PPE should be sourced.
- Type IV allergic reaction. This is the response to the chemical additives, known as accelerators, which are used in manufacturing latex PPE. Diagnosis may well require clinical assessment in order to distinguish symptoms from those of irritation. A type IV allergic reaction normally occurs within a day of exposure and can worsen for a further 3 days.
- Type I allergic reaction. These are immediate reactions to the proteins in NRL products. This can lead to clinical reactions to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. In extreme cases anaphylactic shock can result and workers developing asthma is worryingly common.
What are the alternatives?
All PPE should be carefully selected to suit the individual using it and the risks of the task. There are constant developments, particularly with gloves, in reducing the irritants used in PPE manufacture.
There are many choices in powder free, low protein gloves on the market. Check out our full range of safety gloves. The Health And Safety Executive offer guidelines on selecting gloves and other PPE. Alternatively, a call to us here at Essential Safety Wear (01462 675200) could put your mind at ease.
For all of PPE needs, get in touch with us today.