Your article, "Allergic to Latex" (March 1996) was most informative but left out some issues that need to be addressed. Precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of becoming sensitized to latex. Wear non-powdered, low-protein gloves along with the rest of the staff. The protein levels must come from the manufacturer as this is not stated on the box. Most powdered gloves are high in protein and the count can vary 3000-fold due to the differences in manufacturing process.
Powder-free prevents the aerosolization of the protein and chemicals. Most health care workers are sensitized through the respiratory system as opposed to patients such as those with spina bifida who are sensitized internally by constant exposure to latex medical devices.
If contact dermatitis on the hands persists after wearing low-protein, powderless gloves, you should switch to synthetic materials even though you have no other signs or symptoms of a latex sensitivity. Hand dermatitis is often a precursor to systemic or Class 1 sensitization to latex.
Most allergists perform in vitro testing as opposed to in vivo because of the risks of anaphylaxis associated with in vivo testing. There is an in vitro test, AlaSTAT, recently approved for marketing by the FDA for latex sensitivity. Disregard hypoallergenic labeling as the Draize Test is used for the cosmetic industry and inappropriate for latex gloves.
Do not use under-gloves as they give a false sense of security. They may help as a barrier for chemical sensitivity, but, if you are using powdered gloves, you are still inhaling the proteins even though your hands may not be breaking out.
Beware of surgical masks since many of them are sprayed with latex for filtration. One company has put a red warning label about latex content, but most companies offer no product information. France is working on a desensitizing agent but, until one is found, latex allergies severely affect lives in terms of work, everyday life, and medical care.
Lastly, if you are latex sensitive or suspect you might be, there are two sources of information and support. The Latex Allergy News, which is published monthly, can be reached at 176 Roosevelt Ave., Torrington, CT 06790; (203) 482-6869. ELASTIC (Education for Latex Allergy/Support Team & Information Coalition) has resource representatives nationwide and can be contacted at (610) 436-4801. These two organizations offer courses on latex allergies and its implications, give testimony to the FDA and NIOSH, promote the labeling of all products containing latex, and are a good source for alternate products that are latex free.
This is an allergy that is ever increasing due to exposure and should not be taken lightly.
Margaret A. Corso, RDH, BS
Long Valley, New Jersey