Powder-Free Gloves in Hospitals Decreases Allergy Risk

Using powder-free latex gloves rather than those with cornstarch powder greatly reduced the number of workers’ compensation claims related to latex-related illness, a recent Geisinger Health System study found. Healthcare workers use latex gloves to reduce the spread of infection and disease when caring for patients. The gloves also protect workers from exposure to chemicals, bodily fluids and other potentially dangerous substances.

Often, a powder such as cornstarch is added to make it easier to slip on or remove the gloves. The powder provides a dry grip for contact with moist hands. The powder also makes it more difficult for gloves to tear. But powder can aggravate latex allergies. Allergic reactions caused by latex exposure range from simple itching to anaphylactic shock.

In 2001, Geisinger Health System clinicians stopped using powdered latex gloves. A study in a recent edition of the journal Dermatitis examined what happened after Geisinger made the change:

• The number of workers’ compensation claims for latex illness among Geisinger employees 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.

While Geisinger’s cost increased initially with the new gloves, most of that increase was offset by decreased workers’ compensation claims as well as spending on water and soap to clean the powder, the study noted.

“The transition away from powdered latex gloves should decrease the chance of sensitization to the latex protein in healthcare workers,” said Patricia Malerich, MD, primary study author and Geisinger dermatologist. “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.”

Source: Geisinger Health System