The introduction and continuous improvement of latex gloves has considerably improved the health and safety conditions for dental patients and staff alike. However, one area which is often overlooked is the potential for allergic reaction to the latex itself.
Should one of your employees suffer an allergic reaction and neither you nor your dental practice has provided guidance on latex use, you could face a potential compensation claim under the employers’ liability section of your Dental Surgery Insurance.
What Are Allergic Reactions To Latex?
During the course of their daily routine, dentists and dental nurses are likely to come in contact with gloves or other products that contain latex. Latex contains natural proteins that can cause sensitivities or allergies in some individuals, with this in mind, it is important to know what the specific risks are and what precautions your business should take to reduce them.
How To Ascertain if Team Members Are Allergic?
The amount of latex exposure which is needed to cause an allergic reaction is unknown, but increased exposure to latex does increase the risk of developing symptoms. Symptoms can begin within minutes or hours of exposure and vary in severity:
- Mild reactions to latex involve skin redness, rash, hives, or itching.
- More severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and asthma (difficult breathing, coughing spells and wheezing).
- Rarely, shock may occur; however, a life-threatening reaction is seldom the first sign of a latex allergy.
Irritation to Latex
Many people will not have an actual allergy to latex, but instead experience reactions to it. The most common reactions to latex are:
- Irritant contact dermatitis – the development of dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin, usually the hands. This reaction is caused by irritation from wearing gloves and by exposure to the powders added to them.
- Allergic contact dermatitis, sometimes called chemical sensitivity dermatitis – results from the chemicals added to latex during harvesting, processing, or manufacturing. These chemicals can cause a skin rash similar to that of poison ivy.
- Neither irritant contact dermatitis nor chemical sensitivity dermatitis is a true allergy.
Protection from Latex Irritation and Allergies
If one of your staff develops the symptoms of a latex allergy, they should avoid direct contact with latex gloves and other latex-containing products. You should arrange for them to see their Doctor, upon which it is likely that they will be referred to a specialist in treating latex allergy.
Those with a latex allergy should:
- Avoid contact with latex gloves and products.
- Avoid areas where they might inhale the powder from latex gloves worn by other employees.
- Advise health care providers (doctors, nurses, dentists, etc.) that they have a latex allergy.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet.
Of course, it is not just employees who may suffer an allergic reaction, it can equally apply to patients. With this in mind, you should ensure that practice questionnaires and consent forms cover allergies in detail.
Should a patient suffer an allergic reaction while in your care or receiving treatment, they could hold you liable and seek compensation for malpractice under your Dentists Professional Indemnity Insurance.
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