Why are there health concerns about powdered medical gloves?

Recently, the FDA announced, “A proposal to ban most powdered gloves in the United States. While use of these gloves is decreasing, they pose an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury to health care providers, patients and other individuals who are exposed to them, which cannot be corrected through new or updated labeling”.

The use of powder allows easier donning of gloves. The manufacturers have also used the powders to help avoid the gloves from sticking together.  The two most commonly used powders are,

  • cornstarch
  • calcium carbonate (CaCO3).

What are the health concerns of powdered gloves?

The powder can carry proteins from latex gloves so when they are opened, shook and stretched onto a hnad the powder becomes airborne. This is a serious concern for those people who are allergic to latex, severe allergies such as anaphylaxis can occur.

The powder in the air can cause airway inflammation and eye irritation.

The powder can get into wounds since gloves may be changed throughout the case. There have been several reports of higher wound infection rates and rates of adhesions after surgery. An adhesion is a bands of scar tissue that forms between internal organs and tissues. This may cause kinking of the bowel which can lead to a bowel obstruction.

There is also a concern for infertility. The powder may cause scaring in the fallopian tubes. Several papers advise that powder free gloves should be used even for routine vaginal examination.

Ansell the manufacturers of gloves states “Researchers have also shown powdered gloves to be a risk factor for post-operative wound infections. As with most foreign bodies, glove powder decreases the inoculum of bacteria required to produce abscesses, in this case being reduced by a factor of at least 10 fold. In addition, powder also delays wound healing and alters the normal reparative process while at the same time increases the wounds inflammatory response.”

An increase in inflammatory tissue usually results in more scar tissue.

What do you think about the ban on powder in medical gloves?

References -Ansell statement

Moriber-Katz, S. et al. Contamination of perfused donor kidneys by starch from surgical gloves. Am J Clin Pathol. 1998; Jul90(1): 81-84.

Edelstam, J. et al. Glove powder in the hospital environment – consequences for healthcare workers. Int. Arch. Environ. Health 2002; vol. 75: 267-271.

Sjosten, A.C.E. et al. Post-operative consequences of glove powder used pre-operatively in the vagina in the rabbit model. Human Reproduction. 2000; vol. 15: 1573-1577.

Hunt, T.K. et al. Starch powder contamination of surgical wounds. Arch. Surg. 1994; vol 129(8): 825-827.

Duron, J.J. et al. Post-operative peritoneal adhesions and foreign bodies. Eur. J. Surg. Suppl. 1997; vol. 579: 15-16.

Emerson, M. Chairman’s conclusions. Eur J Surg. 1997.

. Odum, B.C. et al. Influence of absorbable dusting powders on wound infection. J. Emerg. Med. 1998; vol. 16(6): 875-9.

. Giercksky, K.E. Misdiagnosis of cancer due to multiple glove powder granulomas. Eur. J. Surg. Suppl. 1997; vol. 579:11-14. 9. Field, E.A. The use of powdered gloves in dental practice: a cause for concern? J. Dent. 1997; vol. 25: 209-214

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