Medical gloves are a critical part of safety and hygiene routines in medical facilities of all sizes. Recent events have also thrust hand hygiene protocols and the importance of PPE as an infection control measure into the public spotlight.
As such, demand for single-use exam gloves and other types of medical gloves will surely rise in the coming years, but not all gloves offer the same benefits and performance.
Getting the best blend of protection and performance out of a glove is about more than simply picking the correct size.
In this guide, we’ll cover essential considerations, including medical glove materials, glove designs, and recommended procedures for donning and doffing, to ensure optimal protection in any situation.
Glove Materials: 3 Popular Choices Compared
One of the most important considerations when choosing a disposable glove is the material.
Each material offers a unique mix of traits which you must consider to ensure optimal protection, wearer comfort, and cost-effectiveness.
Let’s look at three of the most common medical glove materials on the market: nitrile, latex, and vinyl.
Made from synthetic rubber, nitrile gloves are an excellent choice when latex allergies are a concern or you need enhanced durability. Nitrile gloves are the most widely used gloves in acute care and provide a good balance of dexterity and protection.
- Great durability
- Enhanced chemical resistance
- Chemotherapy tested models available
- Excellent puncture resistance
- Snug fit
- Good bacterial and viral resistance
- Excellent touch sensitivity
- Powdered and Powder-free options available
- Accelerator-free nitrile glove options available
- Comfortable for long periods
- Longer shelf life than natural rubber/latex
- More expensive than other materials
Made from natural rubber, latex gloves are very elastic. This creates an ultra snug fit which is especially important when fine motor skills or increased dexterity are required.
Latex gloves are also less resistant to punctures and chemicals than nitrile. The main reason why Latex gloves are becoming less and less popular is the allergy risk that comes with using latex gloves.
- Very elastic
- Extra snug-fit
- Good bacterial and viral resistance
- Allows for greater dexterity
- Good touch sensitivity
- Can cause Type 1 Allergic Reactions
- Reduced chemical/puncture resistance compared to nitrile
Made from a synthetic polymer (PVC), vinyl gloves eliminate the concern of latex allergies much like nitrile gloves but do so at a lower price point.
However, vinyl gloves are often the least protective option, providing limited chemical resistance, a looser fit, and increased risk of rips and tears due to lack of durability.
This makes them more suited for low-risk procedures and scenarios where latex glove alternatives are required.
- Very affordable
- Latex free
- Looser fit
- Weak chemical and puncture resistance
- Reduced manual dexterity
Glove Designs Compared
While there is a wide range of specialized glove types available, you’ll frequently encounter two primary designs:
- Standard cuff gloves
- Extended cuff gloves
When you think of a single-use glove for medical use, the standard cuff glove is likely what comes to mind.
Typically 9.5 inches in length, standard cuff gloves are designed to provide protection up to the wrist area.
It is suited for a variety of common medical care scenarios and is also popular for a range of consumer and non-medical applications.
Extended cuff gloves include a lengthier wrist section, up to 12 inches long.
This provides greater protection against splashes and spills to keep harmful substances from entering the glove.
The additional length also makes the gloves ideal for situations in which submersion of the hands or arms in hazardous substances or sensitive environments is required, such as in medical device reprocessing departments or when handling chemotherapy drugs.
Sterile vs. Non-Sterile Gloves
Apart from design and materials, whether the gloves are sterile is also an important consideration.
Most gloves used in the healthcare setting are likely of the non-sterile variety. These are suitable for non-surgical procedures and patient interactions from exams to ICU and isolation.
However, more sensitive situations — such as surgical procedures and internal examinations — often require sterile gloves to reduce the risk of contamination and infection.
Always be sure to consult procedures and product types before performing more delicate procedures to ensure the optimal levels of personal protective equipment are used.
Following proper procedures and protocols will ensure the safety of both the healthcare professional and the patient.
Powdered vs. Powder-Free Gloves
Many gloves are available in powdered and powder-free varieties.
While powdered gloves allow for easier donning, the powder acts as a carrier of allergens. Powder can also increase the chance of dermatic reactions and present contamination risks. As such, powdered gloves are not recommended for sensitive or invasive procedures.
Powder-free gloves have improved greatly since the earliest options. Today’s powder-free technologies make slipping gloves on easier than in the past while eliminating the caked-on, pasty feeling that comes with wearing a powdered glove.
Best of all, pricing between powdered medical gloves and powder-free medical gloves has become nearly identical. PRIMED offers powder-free glove options at prices which easily compete with powdered gloves to help control costs while providing optimal comfort and protection for healthcare professionals.
Glove Sizing Considerations
Apart from material choice, glove sizing is the factor most likely to impact glove effectiveness.
The feel and fit of a glove change slightly depending on specific glove lines and material thickness.
When trying on an exam glove ask yourself:
- Does your examination glove fatigue your hand?
- Do you feel resistance when you move your fingers?
If so, the glove might be too small.
- Does the glove feel loose or bunch at the palm, wrist, or fingers?
- Is it tough to grip objects?
- Do your fingers fail to fill the glove space?
If so, the glove might be too big.
If the glove is comfortable to wear for extended periods and feels like a second skin or is hardly noticeable during wear, you’ve found the right glove size.
When Should You Change Your Gloves?
Exact requirements will vary based on the usage environment and any requirements set forth by local and government regulations as well as your facility’s standard operating procedures.
However, best practices often recommend changing your disposable gloves at the following times:
- Between patients or tasks
- When gloves become contaminated or dirty
- When moving between a contaminated part of the body to another part of the body or work environment that may be at higher risk from cross-contamination (e.g. broken skin, mucous membranes, etc.)
- When gloves are torn or punctured
- After sneezing, coughing, or touching one’s hair or face
- Materials impact everything from resistances and pricing to comfort and fit
- Vinyl gloves offer the least protection but are cost-effective for tasks requiring a shorter time frame or less exposure to body fluids or hazardous substances.
- Latex gloves may cause allergic reactions — especially during extended use or when using powdered varieties.
- Nitrile gloves offer an excellent alternative to latex with enhanced chemical protection, improved penetration resistance, and no worry of allergic reactions. Accelerator-free nitrile glove models can help reduce dermic reactions when required.
- Always pair gloves with effective hand washing procedures. Gloves are not a replacement for hand washing.
- Proper donning and doffing of gloves is essential to avoid exposure to pathogens or contaminants.
- Glove sizing is not just about comfort. It also impacts manual dexterity, protection from fluids, tearing and penetration chances, and tactile sensitivity.
PRIMED offers a wide range of medical examination gloves to meet the needs of medical professionals across North America. Contact us today to discuss how our Medical Examination and Procedure Glove line can help to protect your workers and patients with reliable, affordable delivery of supplies for healthcare facilities large and small.
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