Latex allergies have become a major occupational health problem, rising to epidemic proportions in highly exposed healthcare workers and other populations with significant exposures. Latex allergy can be prevented. Employers should adopt policies to protect workers from undue latex exposures. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers and workers take the following steps to minimize latex exposure and allergy in the workplace.
Provide workers with education programs and training materials about latex allergy.
Use appropriate barrier protection when handling infectious materials. If latex gloves are chosen, provide workers with reduced protein, powder-free gloves to reduce exposure to allergy-causing proteins (antigens).
Ensure that workers use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace. Identify areas (e.g., upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums) contaminated with latex dust for frequent cleaning. Make sure that workers change ventilation filters and vacuum bags frequently.
Periodically 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 effects.
Evaluate current prevention strategies whenever a worker is diagnosed with latex allergy.
Use non-latex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials (e.g., food preparation, routine housekeeping, maintenance, etc.).
If latex gloves are chosen, use powder-free gloves with reduced protein content. Such gloves reduce exposures to latex protein and thus reduce the risk of latex allergy (though symptoms may still occur in some workers). So-called hypoallergenic latex gloves do not reduce the risk of latex allergy; however, they may reduce reactions to chemical additives in the latex (allergic contact dermatitis).
Use appropriate work practices to reduce the chance of reactions to latex. 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. After removing latex gloves, wash hands with a mild soap and dry thoroughly.
Take advantage of all latex allergy education and training provided by the employer: Become familiar with procedures for preventing latex allergy. Learn to recognize the symptoms of latex allergy, such as skin rashes; hives; flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and shock.
If symptoms of latex allergy develop, avoid direct contact with latex gloves and other latex-containing products until you can see a physician experienced in treating latex allergy.
If you have latex allergy, consult your physician regarding the following precautions: (1) avoid contact with latex gloves and other latex-containing products, (2) avoid areas where you might inhale the powder from latex gloves worn by other workers, (3) tell your employer and your healthcare providers (e.g., physicians, nurses, dentists, etc.) that you have latex allergy, (4) wear a medical alert bracelet, and (5) carefully follow your physician’s instructions for dealing with allergic reactions to latex.
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