Head Start and Early Head Start staff wear latex gloves to prevent contact with bodily fluids. However, allergic reactions to latex do occur. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provide the cause and prevention of latex allergies on the NIOSH Facts page. Head Start and Early Head Start health managers and teachers may use these tips to prevent allergic reactions to latex gloves.
What Is Latex Allergy?
Latex allergy can result from repeated exposures to proteins in natural rubber latex through skin contact or inhalation. Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure to latex, but they can occur hours later and can produce various symptoms. These include skin rash and inflammation, respiratory irritation, asthma, and in rare cases shock. In some instances, sensitized employees have experienced reactions so severe that they impeded the worker's ability to continue working in their current job.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends wherever feasible the selection of products and implementation of work practices that reduce the risk of allergic reactions. These recommendations include:
- Use nonlatex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials (food preparation, routine housekeeping, maintenance, etc.).
- Appropriate barrier protection is necessary when handling infectious materials. If you choose latex gloves, use powder-free gloves with reduced protein content.
- When wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions unless they have been shown to reduce latex-related problems.
- Frequently clean work areas contaminated with latex dust (upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums).
- Frequently change the ventilation filters and vacuum bags used in latex-contaminated areas.
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of latex allergy: skin rashes; hives; flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and shock.
- If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, avoid direct contact with latex gloves and products until you can see a physician experienced in treating latex allergy.
- If you have latex allergy, consult your physician regarding the following precautions:
- Avoid contact with latex gloves and products.
- Avoid areas where you might inhale the powder from latex gloves worn by others.
- Tell your employers, physicians, nurses, and dentists that you have latex allergy.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet.
- Take advantage of latex allergy education and training provided by your employer.