Since the introduction of the Bloodborne Pathogen standard in 1992, there has been an increase in the reported incidence of latex allergies. This standard mandated the use of "Universal Precautions" in all instances where the possibility of exposure to human blood or body fluids existed. Gloves are the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) cornerstone of the standard.
Latex comes from the milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea Brasiliensis. The sap consists of a polymer (cis-1,14-polyisoprene). Latex contains hundreds of proteins. Some of these protein fractions are responsible for Type I (anaphylactic) allergic reactions. These are systemic reactions with symptoms inclusive of, but not limited to, hives, rhinitis, and bronchial constriction.
In the process of making latex heat-stable and elastic, latex goes through a process of vulcanization, and chemicals are added to promote strength, stretch and durability.
An additional source of glove allergy may come from the talc or cornstarch powder used in some gloves. Powders can bind with latex protein, which allows the antigen to reach the wearers skin. Additionally, when removing the gloves, this powder can be aerosolized and become a sensitizer via inhalation.
Alternative glove potentials include "powder free" or "latex free" gloves. If choosing latex, powder free is preferable with reduced extractable proteins. If picking synthetic rubber gloves such as neoprene or styrene butadiene, keep in mind that it is still possible to acquire contact dermatitis due to the chemicals used in manufacture. However, "Type I" natural latex allergy does not occur with synthetic rubber gloves. Non-latex gloves should be used when there is little potential for contact with infectious materials. Hands should be washed before and after glove use. Hand washing is the most important factor regarding infection control.