The powdered latex gloves are off!

A proposed ban in the US could signal the demise of powdered latex gloves.

Gloves are supposed to protect us, right? They’re not just fashion items to keep our hands warm when it gets chilly, they’re there to shield our pinkies from the perils of abrasion and stringent chemicals. Even butch, professional fighters choose to protect each other’s welfare with their padded mitts.

Whatever we do there’s a good chance that at some point or other we will entrust the protection of our defenceless digits to a glove designed for the job, and ones made from materials that we trust will be fit for purpose.

Nowhere is this more true than in the clinical environs of the dental practice. For years we have been snapping on those powdered, latex lovelies in the belief that we are protecting both us, and our patients, against the dangers of infection.

Well, if the proposed ban by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is anything to go by, then we have all been operating under a serious misapprehension.

The FDA proposal

The ban is being proposed on the grounds of the ‘unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury the gloves pose to healthcare providers, patients and others who are exposed to them.’

According to the FDA, ‘aerosolised glove powder on natural rubber latex gloves, but not on synthetic powdered gloves, can carry proteins that may cause respiratory allergic reactions.’

It continues to say: ‘Although powdered synthetic gloves do not present the risk of allergic reactions, these devices are associated with an extensive list of potentially serious adverse events, including severe airway inflammation,

“Glove powder poses a risk to both healthcare workers and patients. To reduce the risk of glove powder complications in healthcare workers and to minimise glove powder infection risk, powder-free gloves are recommended.”
wound inflammation, and post-surgical adhesions, which are bands of fibrous scar tissue that form between internal organs and tissues. These side effects have been attributed to the use of glove powder with all types of gloves.’

The proposed ban would apply to powdered surgeon’s gloves, powdered patient examination gloves and absorbable powder for lubricating a surgeon’s glove. However, the FDA has determined that the banning standard would not apply to powdered radiographic protection gloves.

The message from the manufacturer

Australian latex glove manufacturer, Ansell Ltd, have released information on their company website that confirms these concerns, stating: ‘Glove powder poses a risk to both healthcare workers and patients. To reduce the risk of glove powder complications in healthcare workers and to minimise glove powder infection risk, powder-free gloves are recommended.’

Ansell’s statement goes on to outline the risks to both patients and health workers explaining that the powder not only acts as a vehicle for latex antigens, but can also enter the body during surgery.

It is believed that glove powder may trigger an inflammatory response by the immune system, leading to the formation of fibrous bands and post-operative adhesions. These effects have been well documented in the peritoneal cavity but are now being reported in almost every other anatomical site, including the oral region.

Glove powder has also been implicated with decreasing the bonding strength of dental adhesives, by weakening them by getting between the two surfaces.

From the wearer’s perspective, prolonged contact with glove powder may have a serious impact on the users’ skin condition as well as significantly lowering skin hydration levels, thus producing dryness – which is the first sign of irritation.

Additional concerns are raised regarding inhalation or ingestion of the powder, as it could be responsible for upper respiratory tract symptoms or eye irritation.

So are gloves are supposed to protect us? Well, in this case it would seem not, and for those still using them, it is the advice of the DHAA that you make the switch to powder-free gloves as a matter of urgency.

For detailed information regarding the complications associated with glove powder you can download the Ansell ‘Hazards of Powdered Gloves’ brochure.