The Best Alternatives to Latex Gloves
As one of the most frequently used items in the medical industry, the disposable latex glove is an ever-present in doctor’s surgeries and hospital wards across the world. However, for thousands of healthcare professionals and patients alike, these latex gloves are a cause of great discomfort, or at worst life-threatening allergic reactions. Since widespread adoption in the 1960s, people have been searching for the best alternatives to latex gloves, and now in 2019 we are fortunate enough to have a number of excellent alternatives available to us.
But, how did latex become so prevalent? And why are so many people allergic to it? Well, the answer to this lies in its origins as a naturally occurring product within rubber trees. The most common rubber tree species, the Hevea Brasiliensis, originated in the Amazon rainforest where it was first cultivated by Europeans for the production of rubber. The British were responsible for transporting the species to South East Asia where today it is grown in enormous quantities. Its durability, elasticity, and malleability ensured naturally occurring latex became widely used in the 18th Century, but it wasn’t until 1964 that it was first used to create disposable medical gloves.
Unfortunately, as a naturally occurring product, latex rubber contains sensitising proteins that cause some people to have allergic reactions upon contact. These allergic reactions can range from mild skin irritations to severe anaphylactic shock, which in extreme cases can cause death. As a result, the need for safe alternatives to disposable latex gloves became extremely pressing, and there are now a number of excellent options available on the market. Here at Medshop New Zealand, we take a look at a few of the best alternatives just for you.
Low-Protein Latex Gloves
For those suffering from very mild allergic reactions to natural latex, a number of manufacturers now produce powder-free, low-protein, latex gloves as an alternative to traditional latex gloves. These benefit from having the same durability, elasticity and flexibility as normal latex gloves, and they are also better for the environment than disposable gloves made from synthetic materials that, in many cases, are not biodegradable. However, with the potential for an allergic reaction still possible, even though it is significantly minimized with reduced-protein natural rubber latex gloves, the best alternatives available are completely latex free.
Polyvinyl Chloride, better known as PVC, is a plastic rather than a rubber, and is therefore completely synthetic—essentially removing the natural proteins entirely. While this means no latex allergies, there are other chemicals used in its production, so it is always best to check first before you use PVC gloves. As an alternative to latex gloves they are cheap, strong (thanks to the thick polymers they are made from) and provide excellent protection from exposure to chemicals and other hazardous liquids. They are, however, far less biodegradable than latex gloves, and when used in the large quantities most hospitals require, they will have a much bigger impact on the environment.
Without doubt the best alternative to latex gloves available today, nitrile gloves have become an extremely popular option in many hospitals and surgeries. This synthetic rubber is made from a combination of copolymers, not dissimilar to PVC, that produce an extremely tough and durable material to rival natural latex. Nitrile gloves have excellent protection qualities, especially when handling oil or petroleum-based products, and have even been shown to have lower failure rates than natural latex rubber gloves.
You will be able to distinguish Nitrile gloves on the ward as they almost always come in blue or black colours, making it easier to spot punctures or tears. The number of wearers suffering from allergic reactions after using Nitrile gloves is below 1%, and this level of reliability has seen them become the most widespread alternative to latex in the medical industry.
The only drawback with Nitrile gloves in their current form is the impact their frequent use has on the environment. Much like PVC, synthetic Nitrile polymers are extremely slow to breakdown naturally. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with the first biodegradable Nitrile gloves already beginning to hit the market. These gloves do come at a price though, and until they become a little more cost effective, most hospitals won’t be rushing to stock up on them.
Until biodegradable Nitrile gloves become widely available, the best alternative to latex gloves remains Nitrile gloves. Prioritising the safety and comfort of healthcare professionals and patients with latex allergies must take precedent to ensure the ongoing provision of top-quality care in New Zealand's healthcare system. Medshop New Zealand stocks a wide variety of Nitrile gloves, as well as traditional latex ones, to meet the needs of all professionals in the medical industry. Discover our range today and browse the rest of our healthcare industry supplies on the Medshop website