In the operating room, where surgeons’ and other surgical services professionals’ hands are perhaps the most important instrument, it stands to reason that gloves should be given careful consideration and viewed as a critical piece of the personal protective equipment puzzle.
Given the perpetual need for glove protection in the OR – and the growing emphasis on infection prevention throughout the healthcare continuum – the booming glove market should come as little surprise. The global surgical gloves market is expected to reach U.S. $1.38 billion by 2015; much of that will be driven by powder-free surgical gloves, which is projected to expand at a compounded annual growth rate of 8.3 percent between 2011 to 2015, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts Inc., a worldwide business strategy and market intelligence resource.
Increasing awareness surrounding latex sensitivity and allergies has prompted ongoing innovation and technological breakthroughs in the synthetic surgical glove segment – as well as the proliferation of powder-free, “latex-safe” gloves with low levels of latex protein. Although, historically, many surgeons have preferred powdered latex gloves, the plethora of reports and statistics that have surfaced over the years regarding powdered gloves’ role in contributing to latex allergies has gradually led to a heightened focus on safety – for both the staff and the patient.
As the American Latex Allergy Association reports, anywhere from 3 percent to 22 percent of healthcare workers are sensitive to natural rubber latex (and for many, it’s the powder that contributes most to the sensitivity). What makes powdered gloves problematic is that the powder becomes aerosolized and makes the latex particles airborne and able to be inhaled. Symptoms of latex sensitivity and allergy can range from localized skin irritation to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
It’s also been shown that the more latex protein one is exposed to over time, the more it increases their likelihood for sensitization – a point that underscores why healthcare workers run a greater risk for becoming latex-sensitive or allergic. The same logic can be applied to repeat patients who are exposed to latex gloves and other latex devices over the course of their treatment. Even if the caregivers aren’t latex-sensitive, the patient very well may be – and vice versa – which makes switching to powder-free, latex-safe products (and synthetic versions for those who are confirmed or suspected as latex-sensitive) a prudent decision.
The challenge for manufacturers has been to reduce the protein level to the point that there’s no discernable difference between powdered and powder-free gloves. “Market participants that provide low-protein-content gloves stand to increase their market share dramatically,” reports market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
A Sensitive Issue
More than ever, surgical glove manufacturers are meeting the needs for low-protein latex gloves for those looking to create a latex-safe environment. Of course, for those with determined latex sensitivity or allergy, it’s wise to avoid latex gloves altogether, and manufacturers are meeting that need with synthetic alternatives comprised of materials such as nitrile, neoprene and polyisoprene.
While neoprene is strong and conforms well to the hand, it does lack the tactile sensitivity of latex. To help bridge that gap, next-generation neoprene products have surfaced that are thinner, yet still strong, to enhance comfort and tactile sensitivity. Polyisoprene surgical gloves have been praised for their elasticity, fit, and simplified donning.
Some gloves feature a synthetic polyisoprene that is nearly molecularly identical to latex. This provides surgeons with a similar fit and feel of latex gloves, as well as good tactile sensitivity and performance, while eliminating the potentially harmful proteins linked to latex allergies. While polyisoprene has become a preferred material for those who require synthetic gloves and has led to continued growth in the surgical glove market, the material’s higher associated price may make it a bit cost-prohibitive for some budget-conscious facilities. This has been a contributing factor in the lesser-expensive neoprene’s continued popularity in the latex-free glove segment.
The have been significant advancement on the latex glove manufacturing side, as well. More manufacturers are producing low-protein, powder-free latex gloves that significantly reduce the latex protein content. Experts note that low-allergen, powder-free gloves are a good choice for those who are not known or suspected to be latex-sensitive (whereas synthetic, latex-free gloves should be used for any healthcare worker who is sensitive to latex – and any patient with suspected or proven latex sensitivity.)
Today, surgical professionals also have access to lubrication alternatives, which replace cornstarch, the most common dusting powder used for lubricating natural rubber latex gloves (shown to contribute to latex allergy when combined with the protein in the glove), with an inner polyurethane coating to simplify donning and reduce some of the risks associated with latex proteins.
A newly approved natural rubber latex made from a desert shrub grown in Arizona – as opposed to the traditional Hevea latex that comes from a tropical tree in Southeast Asia – has been shown to trigger no immunologic reaction in those who have developed even a severe allergic reaction to the Hevea latex proteins. According to the U.S. FDA, gloves made from guayule latex may prove to be a safer alternative for some people with sensitivity to traditional latex, without sacrificing the desirable properties of traditional latex, such as flexibility and strength. In addition, a 1998 FDA rule mandated that all medical devices containing latex carry a statement on the label warning about the risk of allergic reactions.
Because there is no data on individuals’ long-term experience with the guayule latex gloves, the products will carry a warning for now about the potential for allergic reactions. As such, synthetic, latex- and powder-free gloves are recommended for those with suspected or confirmed latex sensitivity.
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This article is re-published by LabX with permission from Medical Dealer Magazine - MD Publishing.