Why Should You Be Using Nitrile Gloves for Your Practice?

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 –
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
The effects of latex gloves are so alarming that in 2016 the US FDA proposed a ban on all powdered gloves as just a statutory warning printed on the boxes wouldn’t be enough to prevent the potential damage. The FDA proposed this ban after considering reliable evidence in the scientific literature in order to protect health care providers and patients from the unreasonable and substantial risks associated with the use of powdered latex gloves. The risk of latex-related allergies is increased in people with several conditions including patients with conditions like Spina Bifida, Atopy, people undergoing multiple surgeries, and those who are allergic to certain other substances.  There is no known treatment for latex allergy and the symptoms can only be managed once they develop by preventing exposure to latex in the future. The question that is now raised is – If not latex gloves, then what? Fortunately, there are several alternatives to latex gloves such as Nitrile Gloves, Neoprene Gloves, and Polymer Gloves. Out of these alternatives, Nitrile Gloves are the most popular choice as they have a similar feel like latex due to the rubbery texture produced by vulcanization with Sulphur. Nitrile gloves are puncture and snag resistant, mold to the hand for a better fit, provide extended protection, and resistant to many chemicals. Nitrile Gloves are also powder-free which makes them a much safer choice. Additionally, their lower level of friction allows them to be worn for a longer period. Nitrile gloves maintain sensitivity while being durable, strong, and flexible making the dexterous jobs easier. Some brands are also manufactured with textured fingertips allowing for a better grip. Nitrile gloves are available in various colors and are engineered to rip completely in case of a puncture making the breach clearly visible to the wearer and avoiding any unknown contamination. While latex gloves are manufactured using natural rubber sap, nitrile gloves are made from synthetic rubber which is free from natural proteins making it a safer choice to prevent allergies. Numerous hospitals around the world have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of latex-related allergies after making the switch to 100% latex-free nitrile gloves. So, while the quest to find the perfect medical grade glove is likely to continue, with Nitrile gloves we’ve got a little closer to the ideal one. The technological advancements in the production of nitrile gloves have ensured that this glove has nearly all the characteristics that are requisite in a superior medical grade glove. It offers a great alternative to latex gloves and reduces the risks associated with the prolonged use of latex for both the health care professionals as well as the patients.