Choosing Medical Gloves
Category : General Safety
Medical gloves are a critical tool used by healthcare professionals to help prevent cross-contamination between patients and caregivers. They protect both patients and medical personnel against all manner of dangerous chemicals, bacteria, and viruses.
Think about it like this. At the most basic level, medical gloves are used to keep both the patient and the medical professional safe. Doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, EMTs, lab techs, and many others use them every day as part of their job.
The first thing that likely comes to mind when we say medical gloves are traditional latex gloves. But there are several options available, and for many, the choices can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Which glove is right for you? How do you know? The process of deciding can be confusing without the right knowledge, which then leads to frustration.
In this resource guide, we’ll explain the different options available and how to choose the best glove for your needs.
To begin, let’s think about what you should look for in a medical glove. You may not have given this much thought up until this point, but there’s more to it than just pulling on a pair of latex gloves and calling it good.
Keep these four main factors in mind when selecting medical gloves:
How do we analyze those four key factors in terms of gloves? The answers coincide with the types of materials different gloves are made from. Let’s take a look.
Medical Glove Materials
Most medical gloves are made from one of three materials – latex, vinyl, and nitrile. Each has advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll discuss below. Let’s starts with the traditionally most popular type, latex.
Latex is a natural rubber material and historically has been the first choice among healthcare facilities and professionals. Why? They offer a great fit with extreme flexibility so that they’re easy to use and maneuver when caring for a patient.
Latex also offers full protection for both patient and caregiver in cases dealing with infections because latex gloves aren’t prone to tearing and therefore provide maximum safeguarding.
However, the potential issue when dealing with latex is that many people are sensitive to the material, or have an outright latex allergy. We’ll discuss that in greater detail later on. For now, let’s move on to the second material, vinyl.
Vinyl is a synthetic material and therefore a cheaper option than latex. It provides basic defense and is a good general-use glove. However, because the material can be quite thin, it’s often prone to tearing easier, and therefore doesn’t provide the same level of protection that other materials, like latex, provide.
The nice thing about vinyl is that it’s almost always free of latex, so it offers a nice option for anyone with a latex sensitivity.
The third medical glove material we’ll discuss is nitrile. This synthetic material offers outstanding protection against contamination and infection, making it a popular choice amongst healthcare professionals. It also features comparable flexibility to latex, so its comfort, fit and ease of use are enhanced.
Nitrile is often more expensive than other medical gloves, however it’s a wonderful alternative for latex-sensitive patients or caregivers, and because it often comes in either black or blue, it’s easier to see if the gloves have been punctured and rendered unsafe.
Latex vs Vinyl vs Nitrile
So now we know the three main materials medical gloves are comprised of, but which one is right for you? It’s important to think about your daily activities and why you’ll use the gloves. What potential dangers do you face each day?
Latex provides maximum comfort, a great fit and flexibility, and protection against bacteria and viruses.
Vinyl is a comfortable, cost-efficient alternative, but doesn’t provide great durability, nor the best protection. However, for non-hazardous situations, it makes a nice, latex-free option.
Nitrile is the costliest of the three, but is highly durable and provides great comfort and fit, as well as outstanding puncture resistance. It protects best against both chemicals and viruses.
Powdered vs Non-powdered Gloves
You’ve probably heard the terms powdered and un-powdered gloves used before. But what do these terms mean? It sounds like we’re talking more about donuts than medical gloves.
Powdered gloves are those which have been powdered with a material, usually cornstarch, to help make them easier to put on and take off, while non-powdered gloves have had the powder coating removed.
Is one better than the other? Powdered are popular because of the ease of use, and the cornstarch doesn’t usually cause irritation. However, there are times when the cornstarch may make its way into a cut or wound, which can prevent the natural healing process of the skin tissue. For this reason, some prefer to use un-powdered gloves.
As promised, let’s go into a bit greater detail about latex sensitivity. Unlike many other allergies, you’re not born with a latex allergy, but rather it’s something you can develop due in part to repeated exposure to the material, making it especially prevalent among healthcare workers.
Symptoms include redness and irritation to the exposed area, and can develop into stronger and more life-affecting symptoms with repeated exposures, including severe breathing problems.
For this reason, many medical offices are moving away from using latex products so as not to overexpose their workers and create problems for them.
Remember that it’s very important that you ask a patient whether they have a sensitivity or allergy to latex before beginning care.
Although criteria like fit and comfort are important, the most important factors to think about are protection and durability, that is, to find a glove that offers maximum protection against the elements you’ll be exposed to, as well as a glove that’s durable enough to resist punctures which may result in contamination.
If you’re buying medical gloves for the office, it may be wise to keep a supply of each kind on hand, so that no matter what the situation, you’re prepared for anything and can choose the glove that best suits your needs.