An Allergy Guide for Health Workers: Non-Latex Nitrile Gloves
Why Are Nitrile Gloves Supposedly ‘better’ than Latex?
Latex allergies have been in the spotlight for so long; it is reported that around 30% of the population have developed an allergy to latex. That’s why most care practices have stopped the use latex gloves completely and opted for the new synthetic variety called Nitrile.
Nitrile was invented around 1990, designed to offer greater protection against chemicals and bodily fluids; Nitrile is also tear resistant and most importantly, ‘hypoallergenic’, (meaning your chances of developing an allergy to Nitrile is extremely rare). All in all, a seemingly viable solution; except for the unlucky few, who have an allergy to Nitrile!
Most hospitals now days will only stock Nitrile Gloves – if you are unfortunate enough to have an allergy to Nitrile, and your work depends on it, you are severely limited in terms of treatment. After all, you will be working in an allergic environment! The sure fire way to get over your symptoms is to abandon the environment altogether...especially if your allergy is severe or even life threatening.
If your allergy is not life threatening but instead causing you extreme pain and discomfort, there are some things you can do to help.
Why Is It That People Don't Believe You When You Say You Have a Nitrile Allergy?
Ever get the impression that medical professionals don't believe you when you tell them about your Nitrile Glove allergy? Many look at me blankly when I tell them about my reactions to Nitrile Gloves; they simply laugh and tell me I am getting confused with Latex. I don't know why they find it so hard to believe; especially when people all over the globe seem to be suffering with Nitrile allergy reactions.
The typical allergic reaction to Nitrile Gloves include inflamed skin, often found on the sides of the fingers (where the skin is thinnest), palms and tops of the hands. The skin may become dry, flakey, cracked and leathery in appearance; often with a spongey texture. This is otherwise known as Contact Dermatitis.
If the allergic reaction is severe, the skin may develop itchy blisters (otherwise known as Pompholyx Ezcema).
As one person pointed out, Latex has been around a lot longer than Nitrile; maybe in a few years, there will be more information (and alternatives) available to sufferers, especially those dependant on their jobs in healthcare industries.
Get Allergy and Sensitivity Tested First Before You Jump to Conclusions
Pay a visit to your nearest Occupational Health Department or Doctors Surgery and ask to be allergy tested. It is so important that you pinpoint the problem at source; you might not have a sensitivity to Nitrile at all but instead the toxic chemicals used in the glove manufacturing process, known as accelerator chemicals.
The good news is, ‘Accelerator free Nitrile Gloves’ are available on the market for people who are sensitive to the regular variety of Nitrile Gloves.
Sometimes, the allergy rash will only appear on one or two fingers or a patch on the back of the hand. For some, your entire hand may be affected.
It might also be surprised that a food allergy can be the cause of your sore blistered hands (see section below).
Supporting a Healthy Immune System and Determining an Underlying Food Allergy
I am sure you are all sick of being told what you should and should not eat but it’s true that some vitamins and minerals are indispensable to allergy sufferers. Magnesium for instance can reduce the allergic response in the body; one allergy sufferer an online forum experienced great results eating 3-4 mangoes a day. Admittedly, he had his own mango plantation – not many of us have the luxury of one of those, right?
Eating a nutritious diet may not banish your allergy all together but in the very least, it will help your body to repair itself quicker.
I definitely recommend that you get allergy tested, to find out if you have any food sensitivities. I for one was never allergic to any foods - it was something that I suddenly developed in my late twenties.
Antihistamines stop the body from reacting negatively to allergens such as Nitrile Rubber Gloves; it soothes itchy and inflamed skin in a relatively short time frame - you will be surprised how quickly it will stop the itching. Each tablet can work for up to 24 hours, which is great news for allergy sufferers.
My favourite Antihistamine on the market is Piriton (also known as Chlorpheniramine Maleate). I find it the most long lasting. Some people find they get drowsy taking Chlorpheniramine Maleate but personally, I have no negative side effects whatsoever. Everybody is different, though so have a chat with your local pharmacist if you are concerned.
Avoid the Use of Moisturisers and Barrier Creams Whilst Wearing Nitrile Gloves, If You Definitely Have an Allergy to It
Just in the way that powder does, moisturisers allow allergen molecules to pass deeper into the skin; thus making the problem worse. It is far better to moisturise the skin at night when the body has time to repair itself.
Another way to nourish the skin is by taking supplemental oils in your diet such as Avocado or Hemp Seed. The latter really helps damaged skin to repair itself; usually in a matter of days and weeks.
Ask Your Employer to Provide Alternative Gloves, If You Definitely Have a Nitrile Allergy
If you have a sensitivity to Nitrile and you can provide proof of this, your employer may offer you an alternative solution such as latex or Vinyl.
It is more common to be allergic to the chemicals used in the glove manufacturing process than it is to the Nitrile itself; if your allergy test reveals a sensitivity to the accelerator chemicals, your employer can provide you with “accelerator free Nitrile gloves” instead. Hopefully this will put an end to your problem.
If possible, avoid gloves which have been powdered – allergens stick to the powder and then get absorbed into the skin more easily, as do oil based moisturisers.
Cotton Glove / Disposable HDPE Glove Liners Are Amazing!
If your employer is not able to provide alternative gloves for you, they may allow you to use glove liners inside the Nitrile Gloves to protect your skin. For some, this offers the best kind of allergy protection because it does not involve any kind of medication or topical cream.
If your employer wants you to take time off work with your allergy, (or even worse, end your contract) glove liners could save the day! You will still be using the Nitrile glove to protect you in your working environment but at the same time, protecting yourself from harmful allergens.
When I realised that I had been suffering sore hands because of an underlying food allergy, cotton gloves were a god send. You see, my skin was so sore that, even cutting out the problem foods wasn't enough. This is because the gloves made me sweat and prevented the healing process.
After a few months of wearing cotton glove liners, the inflammation completely disappeared and I no longer had a sensitivity to Nitrile any more.
If All Else Fails, Change to a Different Department at Work
Some departments in the Health Sector allow employees to work without the use of Nitrile Gloves – if you are seriously worried about your health as a result of working with Nitrile, have a chat with your employer. They might be able to sort something out for you.
The bottom line is, if you are allergic to Nitrile Gloves, don't suffer in silence. Speak to your employer and seek medical guidance.
If you have to wear Nitrile gloves, opt for the powdered free variety where possible and keep exposure to an absolute minimum. The longer you leave the gloves on, the worse your skin will be. For some people, opting for powdered free Nitrile gloves solves their problem but for many others, it does not.
Change the gloves frequently and opt for a size that is a lot larger than your hand to ensure proper ventilation. Hand washing is also important to ensure that as much glove residue is removed afterwards.
If You Are a Patient in Hospital, Wear a 'medical Alert' Bracelet to Let Health Workers Know You Are Allergic
If you have a serious allergy to Nitrile, it is important to let other people know about it; a Medical Alert Bracelet is the perfect way to do this.
Say you were rushed into hospital as a patient – hospital staff need to know about your sensitivity to Nitrile before they make contact with you, especially if you are prone to life threatening, Anaphylaxis reactions.
This article is designed for informational purposes only. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health practitioner (and your employer) before attempting any of the above preventative methods.
More by this Author
Pompholyx Eczema is a painful skin disorder. Tiny little blisters appear on the finger tips and palms; often extremely itchy! For me, a sudden Dairy allergy was to blame. I am completely cured now!
Contact dermatitis is when your skin becomes inflamed and sore after coming into contact with irritants or allergens. Prescription drugs are not always the answer to this stubborn skin condition.
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