Marianne McAndrew, RN, BSN, CDE
Latex allergy, your test positive—words I did not want to hear. I really didn’t know what this meant, or the impact it would have on my life. Like many other health care workers, the cause of this allergy was the powdered latex gloves I wore at work. I choose to tell my employer about my allergy to latex (natural rubber latex), but many other nurses have taken the “vow of silence.”
Many nurses have been hesitant to admit they have a problem with the gloves they wear at work for fear of losing their jobs, or being the first to be let go when the facility downsizes. These are your peers who bring their own non-latex gloves to work, who cough, sneeze and have red eyes while doing patient care. These nurses frequently are taking anti-histamines and using inhalers to work, to reduce symptoms from powdered latex exposure. The vow of silence compromises one’s health, and perhaps ultimately, a life or career.
I choose to speak out about my allergy. I was concerned about the health and safety of co-workers, patients and myself. It has not been easy for me. Several of my co-workers have admitted having a documented latex allergy, but took the vow of silence to keep their jobs. The key is prevention of latex allergy by reducing the risks for health care workers and patients. The first step is to remove the powdered latex gloves from the work environment. This will greatly reduce the incidence of most glove-related problems. But, it also removes the aerosolized exposure of airborne powder carrying the latex allergen that will cause reactions to those with a latex allergy. This simple step may allow many health care workers to continue to work. Employers need to provide a safe environment. Health care workers and employers need to educate themselves about latex allergy.
Employees not wishing to admit or address latex allergy have done a wonderful job of promoting ignorance and placing other employees and patients at an unnecessary health risk. Employers who restrict latex allergic employees to reduce latex exposure, yet who do not address it within the institution, are putting a small Band-Aid on a huge wound. Nationally many health care systems are establishing policies for latex safe environments, but many have not accepted this problem. When a pregnant patient presents at the emergency room ready to deliver, and states I have a latex allergy, then it is too late to set up a latex allergy protocol. There are many resources available for health care facilities, health care workers and patients, use them.
If you or someone you know is a health care worker or is a person who is with risk factors for the development of latex allergy, get informed. Pay attention to the signs and symptoms of latex allergy. Be your own advocate. Stop the sensitization of latex allergy, ban powdered latex gloves and demand a safer environment. Do not take the vow of silence, for with many voices the call for a latex safe environment will be heard.
Reproduced here with permission from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.