March 10, 2009

Powder-free gloves may lessen latex ills

A physician-led healthcare system in Pennsylvania had fewer latex-related illness claims after switching to powder-free latex gloves.

The study suggests powder -- such as cornstarch -- used to make gloves less likely to tear and easier to grip with and to take on and off may aggravate latex allergies. Allergic reactions range from simple itching to anaphylactic shock.

The study, published in the journal Dermatitis, found worker's compensation claims for latex-related illness went down after clinicians at Geisinger Health Services -- with over 2 million patients in central and northeastern Pennsylvania -- began using powder free gloves in 2001. Claims fell from 12 per year in the five years before the transition to four-and-a-half claims per year in the four years after the transition. The average workers' compensation payment to employees fell from $34,789 to $2,505.

The transition away from powdered latex gloves should decrease the chance of sensitization to the latex protein in healthcare workers, primary author Dr. Patricia Malerich of Geisinger Health Services said in a statement. Although we examined the effects on healthcare workers, we hope that this decreased exposure to latex proteins carried in powdered gloves will also lead to fewer allergic reactions in latex-sensitive patients.