As awareness of latex allergies has grown over the years, so, too, has the demand for non-latex gloves. Quality has caught up, too, so much so that it's hard to tell a non-latex glove from a latex glove in terms of comfort, tactile quality and elasticity.
"The gloves seem to feel exactly the same when you're wearing them," says hand surgeon Julie Woodside, MD, of OrthoCarolina in Charlotte, N.C.
"You'd probably never notice if it was latex or non-latex."
If you're shopping for non-latex gloves, here are some things to keep in mind:
- The basic material. Nitrile, a synthetic rubber, is the predominant material for non-latex gloves. Nitrile resists punctures, is good for wearing during lengthier cases and has a long shelf life. Nitrile gloves are pretty close to natural rubber latex gloves in terms of flexibility, sensitivity, thinness, feel and ease of donning, says Robert Brown, MD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.
Non-latex gloves can also be made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber made by the polymerization of chloroprene; and polyisoprene, a man-made material that has a molecular structure similar to natural rubber latex.
- Tactile sensation. Today's non-latex gloves are thinner and better in terms of feel probably the most important factor to your surgeons.
"That tactile sensation has got to be right. You don't want the surgeons to feel like they're wearing those Playtex gloves you use to clean dishes," says Dr. Brown.
If you're transitioning to a non-latex surgical glove for the first time, keep in mind that your doctors' glove preference is a highly emotional thing.
"I always laugh when I come in the room because there are probably 15 different types of gloves in our OR. But I like only one kind," says Dr. Woodside. "You kind of feel picky, but if there's a different glove on you, it just feels wrong."
Dr. Brown says the conversion will go a lot smoother if the new glove feels similar or at least not dramatically different than what your docs were using before. "Let the surgeons get a comfort level with any new glove," he says. "Their professional career depends on their hands and their eyes."
- Strength and fit. The non-latex gloves of 30 years ago were not good quality. They'd tear, rip and break. The nitrile gloves in the past 10 to 15 years are durable.
"They really hold up the way a natural rubber latex glove holds up," says Dr. Brown. "Many surgeons double-glove, so you don't want a lot of tension in the gloves. If the fit is not good and there is a lot of stress on their hands, their hands get tired over time. It's got to be a good fit, it's got to feel right in their hands."
OrthoCarolina held a glove trial. They invited glove reps to make presentations to the surgeons to find the best options. "The biggest thing with gloves nowadays latex or non-latex is that you can probably find a pair of each that feels the same. But the non-latex gloves save you from the risk of touching someone who has a latex allergy," says Dr. Woodside. OSM