Surgical gloves, syringes, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, vial stoppers, injection ports — these are just some of the commonly used OR items containing natural latex that could trigger a serious allergic reaction in your staff and patients. You may have attempted to reduce exposure by adopting "latex-free" alternatives, but can you be sure those alternatives are truly safe? Not according to the authors of a new white paper, "Latex Free Claims: A White Paper on the Risks Associated with Latex Allergies and Latex in Healthcare," who explain why healthcare products bearing the term "latex free," "does not contain natural rubber latex" or "does not contain latex" may not be exactly as advertised.
In hopes of reducing the confusion surrounding these misleading labels, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a December 2014 guidance document urging manufacturers to stop using potentially confusing terminology in favor of clearer package labeling, such as "not made with natural rubber latex." In some cases, the statement may not apply to all components — a vial stopper, for example — so a more a specific label — "the vial stopper is not made with natural rubber latex," in this case — would be more accurate.
To complicate matters, currently there are no analytical methods for effectively identifying all the proteins and chemicals in latex that may trigger an allergic reaction. The authors' advice: If you question the potential natural latex content in a product, contact the primary vendor or supplier for clarification.
The need for accuracy in labeling is essential given the unique threat to healthcare workers, who have a higher risk of developing a latex allergy due to repeat exposure. The authors suggest 10% to 17% of healthcare workers have developed sensitivity to Hevea latex, compared to less than 1% of the general population. There's no cure for latex sensitivity, so the only way to decrease the risk is to prevent exposure by means such as adopting synthetic alternatives.
Take latex gloves, for example, which are common triggers of allergic reactions. Gloves made of synthetic polymers such as neoprene, polyisoprene, butadiene and elastiprene are all recommended for surgical procedures, the authors suggest, as none of these alternatives contains latex. But they're also more expensive and may not offer the same level of protection against infection.
The white paper also offers guidance on prophylactic measures to protect patients. When treating a patient who has a known latex allergy, the authors say, staff should make efforts to ensure a "latex safe" environment prior to the patient's arrival. This includes removing latex-containing supplies from the treatment room and, if possible, scheduling the patient early in the morning to reduce their exposure to latex allergens.