Whether a nurse or a home care provider, you must know how vital nursing gloves are.
If you have a medical facility or clinic, you must provide gloves for your nurses.
Thus, you should be more familiar with nursing gloves.
Whenever you see a picture of a nurse, doctor, dentist, or other health care professional, you can spot it there—they are wearing gloves!
But why? And is it essential for every nursing task?
As nursing is the first defense line in the healthcare system, nursing gloves are an indispensable part of medical PPE for their protection, but there might be confusion about when nursing gloves are required and when they are not.
If you’re a nurse, you might also ask yourself,
Does improper use of these gloves have any negative consequences beyond their clinical use?
In this article, we will answer all these questions by discussing the following:
- Types of disposable gloves for nurses
- Why do nurses need to wear gloves?
- How to choose suitable gloves?
- Nursing gloves: what are the disadvantages?
- Will reducing unnecessary glove use by nurses save the environment?
Let’s dig in.
Types of disposable gloves for nurses
Nursing gloves are also referred to as medical examination gloves.
They’re used by nurses and many healthcare professionals such as doctors, caregivers, lab techs, dentists, pharmacists, etc.
They’re mainly used to protect healthcare professionals and patients from contamination during an examination or medical procedure.
And it goes the same way for nursing gloves.
They help protect both the nurse and the patient against infections.
So, what are the types of disposable gloves for nurses?
Latex nursing gloves
These are made of natural rubber latex.
They’re incredibly comfortable, fitting your hands like a second skin.
Moreover, they provide excellent grip and supreme protection against viruses and germs.
Hence, they’ve been the medical industry’s favorite standard for many years.
Besides, latex gloves are known for their latex allergies.
Latex sensitivity reactions range from irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact sensitivity to immediate, possibly life-threatening reactions.
Because there’s an increasing number of healthcare workers who are latex sensitive (1)
which takes us to the second type of nursing gloves that emerged as an alternative to latex gloves.
Even though many people argue that nitrile gloves do not provide the same level of skill and touch sensitivity as latex gloves, the difference is negligible.
Also, textured nitrile gloves have enhanced grip and sensitivity.
Moreover, nitrile gloves don’t cause latex allergies, contrary to latex nursing gloves.
Nitrile is a synthetic rubber containing no latex proteins that might trigger latex allergies; it’s 100% latex-free.
Moreover, they provide a protective barrier between your hands and many hazards, such as microorganisms and body fluids like blood, urine, etc.
In addition, they offer maximum tear resistance, so they’re an excellent choice when handling sharp tools like needles.
Finally, nitrile gloves have a longer shelf life, so they are bought in bulk and are cost-effective.
What about vinyl gloves?
Vinyl nursing gloves are durable, soft, and highly comfortable to wear. They are also easy to put on and take off.
However, they’re less flexible than both latex and nitrile.
They offer the least protection; in terms of quality, leakage, and permeability to viruses; latex and nitrile gloves have better performance than vinyl gloves. (2)
Therefore, it is recommended to use them for only short-term, non-aseptic procedures with a low risk of contact with blood or body fluids.
On the other hand, vinyl nursing gloves are hypoallergenic.
They are the most cost-effective option
Because the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) polymer is one of the cheapest plastics.
For all these reasons, their use as nursing gloves is not common.
Instead, you may find them in janitorial and cleaning settings in healthcare facilities.
The bottom line is,
even though natural rubber latex has been the standard for many years in nursing gloves, it’s not frequently used due to allergy concerns.
Meanwhile, vinyl gloves are only used for non-sterile, short-term tasks.
When you consider buying nursing gloves, nitrile ones are the best choice.
Which takes us to the next point, why do nurses wear gloves?
Why do nurses need to wear gloves?
Nursing gloves are an excellent shield against many hazards in the medical field.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the USA (NIOSH), “Gloves must be worn during all patient-care activities involving exposure to blood or body fluids that may be contaminated with blood, including contact with mucous membranes and non-intact skin” (3)
Let’s go through the reasons why nurses should wear gloves in detail.
Frequent contact with patients
Nurses work with patients more extended than any other healthcare professional.
Whether it’s in hospitals, clinics, or homes.
Additionally, they often work with patients who have contagious conditions.
Wearing nursing gloves when working with patients is essential for their protection.
Nursing gloves protect against body fluids.
Nurses work with body fluids such as blood, saliva, sputum, and urine.
As well as secretions, excretion, mucosal membranes, and non-intact skin.
Whether when collecting samples and swabs for analysis, changing catheters, cleaning infected wounds, or changing stool bags.
All these tasks need the use of disposable gloves.
To create a barrier between the hands and the hazards, to protect and keep them safe and dry.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are the breeding grounds for infections and diseases.
They’re full of microorganisms and pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Nurses are most prone to these microorganisms.
As they care for the patient and perform tasks like changing wound dressings and diapers and cleaning up vomit.
Wearing gloves protects nurses from pathogens and patients from microorganisms that may transfer from the nurses themselves while working with other patients or performing other duties.
Nursing gloves prevent cross-contamination.
Nurses do not only work with one patient; one nurse can be responsible for many patients.
Moving germs from one patient to another or from an object to a patient isn’t the best thing.
That’s why wearing nursing gloves and changing them between each patient is a common practice.
It maintains the safety of patients and prevents cross-contamination.
Nursing gloves protect against needle punctures.
Nurses work with sharp medical tools and needles all the time.
Besides injuries, needle punctures are a source of infection, mainly if you use them for patients with bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis C or AIDS!
That’s why choosing suitable gloves to protect your hands against needle punctures and tears is a must!
Even though nursing gloves don’t wholly prevent punctures, they reduce the volume of blood transferred, thus decreasing the risk of infection from biological hazards. (4)
Nursing gloves protect against chemicals.
Nurses may be in charge of handling dangerous drugs, such as chemotherapy drugs.
Nursing gloves protect against exposure to drugs, chemicals, and other materials that they encounter during work.
Chemotherapy nursing gloves have more requirements than regular gloves.
Nursing gloves are helpful in nursing simulation and teaching labs.
Nursing programs have many classes that need simulation labs to gain more skills through practice.
Nursing gloves are used when handling manikins and parts in the simulation labs.
However, vinyl gloves can do the job since no extreme protection is needed.
The bottom line is
Nurses spend the longest time around patients.
Their duties involve caring for patients and handling bodily fluids and excretions; therefore, they are most susceptible to fluids, infections, and needle punctures.
That’s why nurses need to wear the correct type of disposable gloves to protect themselves and their patients from infections and prevent cross-contamination.
So, how to choose suitable nursing gloves?
Let’s find out.
How to choose suitable gloves?
To be able to select suitable gloves, you need to be familiar with a few aspects, such as the uses of the gloves, their properties, the sort of protection they offer, and many more.
Let’s go through them in detail.
What task will you use the gloves for?
As we have seen above, nursing duties differ; they can range from high-risk to low-risk situations.
Suitable nursing gloves should fit the right task.
Vinyl gloves are used for low-risk tasks that don’t involve contact with body fluids or blood, such as patient examination.
Meanwhile, latex and nitrile are used in higher-risk tasks that involve handling blood or body fluids, such as drawing blood or caring for urinary incontinence.
Finally, special gloves are made for handling hazardous and contaminated materials, for example, chemotherapy drugs.
Usually, in all their daily routine duties, nurses use non-sterile medical gloves.
Yet, there are some settings where using sterile gloves is necessary, such as surgery rooms, baby deliveries, vaginal examinations, cervical smears, and acute wound care.
Besides preparing and handling chemotherapeutic agents.
Did you know that a nurse was the first to introduce gloves in the operating room?
In 1889, the chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital asked the companies to create rubber sterile gloves.
Sterile gloves have specific characteristics such as thickness, elasticity, and a better fit.
Powdered vs. non-powdered
Nurses prefer non-powder gloves as they have fewer chances of developing allergies.
Moreover, they do not interfere with other substances they may be using.
Furthermore, the powder in the gloves can become airborne when taking them off.
They could be affected if someone has a latex allergy and breathes in those airborne particles.
Furthermore, these powders could come into contact with open wounds, causing inflammation.
As a result, the FDA prohibited using patient examination powdered gloves because they pose health risks, including illnesses. (6)
That’s why it’s preferred for nursing gloves to be powder-free.
Nursing gloves should be latex-free.
Many people, including nurses and patients, have latex allergies.
Before selecting a latex nursing glove, you should ensure you don’t have a latex allergy.
Most nurses now go for latex-free gloves, mostly nitrile gloves.
Ensure no allergic reactions, latex allergies, or latex exposure for patients.
Nursing gloves should be waterproof.
Being waterproof is one of the most important features you should look for in a nursing glove.
When you take care of your patient, you will be in charge of many tasks that involve handling fluids.
So, getting a pair of waterproof nitrile gloves would be wise.
Ensure no liquid can pass through and your hands are safe and clean so you can perform your job confidently and safely.
Nursing gloves should offer good dexterity and touch sensitivity.
Protecting your hands doesn’t mean you should lose your touch sensitivity and the skill required to move your hands.
Nurses use small medical tools and needles and touch parts of the patient’s body.
Therefore, nursing gloves should offer the most significant level of touch sensitivity.
As well as good agility for free hand movement and ease of the job.
In addition to being able to move your hand freely and touch things and feel them well,
It would be best if you also had an excellent non-slipping grip on your tools, needles, and flasks containing blood samples, urine, etc.
For this reason, you must choose gloves with an excellent grip to help you maintain a steady hand when doing your tasks.
Durability, strength, and tear resistance
As we mentioned, nurses will handle many sharp tools, including needles.
For this reason, nursing gloves should be made of a high-quality, durable material to withstand sharp objects like nitrile.
Furthermore, it’s of high importance that these gloves have high puncture and tear resistance.
Make sure your gloves are intact and free of holes or punctures before you use them because this can expose you to blood, body fluids, or microorganisms.
Your nursing gloves should be of the correct size. They shouldn’t be too small or too large.
Too small or tight gloves will make you uncomfortable or unable to do your task and care for your patient correctly.
Additionally, they could worsen things as they may tear, break, or leak, leaving you and your patient in danger of infection or injury.
On the other hand, too-large gloves are uncomfortable and can hinder your movement or slip through your hands, breaking the protective barrier. What’s more, they can allow microorganisms in through the cuffs.
That’s why suitable nursing gloves should be of the right size and fit your hand perfectly.
In addition, the fingers of the glove shouldn’t be too long, and the glove should cover the wrist area.
Some gloves have extra-long sleeves to cover the forearm; they’re made for extra protection, and nurses can use them while aiding in vaginal deliveries or cervical swabs.
Simple to put on and take off
Nursing gloves are changed frequently, between each patient and between each task, and sometimes this must be rapid.
Hence, they should be easy to put on and remove.
Nitrile gloves offer low friction resistance.
What does this mean?
Putting them on and taking them off is more accessible than most gloves.
That’s because nitrile gloves go through a chlorination or polymer-coating process that makes donning and doffing them easier without the need to add starch powder!
You will use those gloves more frequently than your regular daily or even weekly use of gloves.
So, ensure they are comfortable to wear and won’t bother you while you do your job.
Nursing gloves come in different colors: clear, light blue, purple, green, black, beige, and pink.
Sometimes nurses use pink gloves in the OBG ward, perform baby delivery operations, or work with breast cancer patients.
If your healthcare facility determines a specific color code for nursing gloves, stick to it.
The bottom line is,
Before deciding on nursing gloves, ensure you know the task you will use them for.
Nursing gloves should offer protection against microorganisms, bodily fluids, punctures, and chemicals.
Furthermore, they should be long-lasting, high-quality, and provide a good grip, dexterity, touch sensitivity, and tear resistance.
Pick the right-sized, comfortable, non-powdered, and latex-free nursing gloves.
Strangely, improper use of nursing gloves can have many negative impacts. Let’s find out what they are.
Disadvantages of nursing gloves
The COVID-19 Pandemic made us more careful about our protection.
Unfortunately, it has blurred the lines between when and when not to use gloves and personal protective equipment.
The use of gloves has increased immensely over the last few years.
To illustrate, in the past two years, 12.7 billion gloves were used in the NHS and social care in England alone, compared to 1.7 billion in 2019. (7)
The pandemic created behavior changes for the public.
People began to use gloves manically at some point, and now they can’t go back.
That’s also true for nurses who are now creating unusual uses of gloves that weren’t there before.
Frequent misuse of nursing gloves can harm you, your patients, and the environment!
Wearing gloves for too long can spread bacteria.
Wearing gloves for extended periods can transfer certain types of bacteria. (8)
Because wearing gloves for too long gives a false sense of safety.
Thus, people forget to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.
As a result, microorganisms accumulate on the hands and transfer whenever you touch something.
Furthermore, wearing gloves too early or too late contributes significantly to such an impact.
Putting on the gloves too early means you touch other contaminated surfaces before you touch your patients, compromising the protection needed.
Meanwhile, wearing the gloves too late means you wear the gloves after your hands have been contaminated, and whenever you take the gloves off, the germs will start spreading through your hands.
Furthermore, wearing gloves for all procedures without changing between patients is a fatal mistake.
This allows cross-contamination between patients.
That’s why you must only use gloves to complete a specific task for a particular person.
Moreover, you must put them on immediately before touching the patients or performing the task.
Make sure to change your gloves frequently, especially if you’re moving from one patient to another, one task to the next, or from one contaminated area to another.
More importantly, ensure you discard them properly if they’re contaminated and remove them when they are not needed.
Frequent use of nursing gloves can cause contact dermatitis.
In 2020, RCN published a survey that shows that 93% of nurses reported at least one symptom of hand dermatitis in the previous 12 months. (9)
To explain, using nursing gloves for a more extended period than intended exposes your hands to the chemicals and materials of the gloves.
This can cause contact dermatitis, in which your skin gets dry, cracked, and irritated.
Nursing gloves can compromise your contact with your patients.
Skin-to-skin contact is an essential part of nursing practice.
This includes holding hands, patting the shoulder, etc., to comfort and reassure your patients.
Using gloves when it’s unnecessary can compromise this concept.
Irrational use of nursing gloves affects the environment
Using gloves incorrectly and wastefully has driven us to places where we may not realize the consequences of going there until it’s too late.
Most gloves are now made of plastic, oil, and fuel derivatives; these don’t biodegrade readily, and it could take up to thousands of years to get rid of them.
Additionally, the glove is one of the most common single-use plastics in the healthcare industry.
So, they end up in landfills and oceans, polluting and destroying the natural marine environment, the forest, and wildlife.
In addition, gloves negatively affect global warming and climate change.
Through the carbon emissions from manufacturing and transporting gloves around the world.
The bottom line is,
the unnecessary and excessive use of nursing gloves can transmit more bacteria and cause more harm.
In addition, it causes skin problems for nursing staff that affect their work.
Moreover, the irrational use of gloves damages our planet and increases global warming and climate change problems.
So how do we spare nursing and the patient these negative impacts and save the environment?
The simple answer is to reduce the unnecessary use of gloves.
Let’s find out how.
Will reducing unnecessary glove use save the environment?
to create a more sustainable health system and reduce waste and gloves piling up
This campaign had the same message as the RCN’s Glove Awareness Week (GAW), asking everyone to be glove-aware.
What does this mean?
It means that everyone should understand how and when to use gloves properly.
As well as understand the importance of hand hygiene as a standard primary precaution for infection control in hospitals and our daily lives.
Further, they advised nurses worldwide to take part in protecting the environment by “making one change” and cutting down on unnecessary glove use.
To illustrate, they invite nurses and healthcare facilities around the world to create a difference by thinking twice before they decide to put on a pair of gloves and asking themselves,
- Do they need to use them?
- Does this task need gloves?
- Will a good hand wash suffice?
Generally, unless there’s no risk of contact with blood, bodily fluids or tissues, mucous membranes, broken skin, chemicals or chemotherapy drugs, infectious diseases, or microorganisms, nursing gloves are not necessary.
If none of the above is involved, a proper hand wash is more than adequate to maintain hand hygiene.
Here are some situations where wearing nursing gloves is not necessary.
- I take patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure, temperature, or pulse.
- I am caring for eyes and ears (without secretions).
- We are placing non-invasive ventilation equipment and an oxygen cannula.
- Any vascular line manipulation in the absence of blood leakage.
- Giving Vaccination.
- Giving SC or IM injections.
- She is replacing linens in patients’ beds or moving patient furniture.
- You are moving your patient into a wheelchair.
- Helping your patient move, eat, drink, or take oral medications.
- You are bathing your patients (unless you or the patient prefer it for comfort).
- They are helping patients change their clothes.
- We are assessing patients in the toilet.
- We are distributing or collecting patient meal trays.
- Entering patient data on computers, clipboards, or charts at the reception desk or nurse station.
- Answering the telephone or drinking a cup of tea or coffee
Moreover, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a leaflet about gloves, including the glove pyramid (11), to help decide whether the procedure or task requires wearing gloves.
The bottom line is that reducing nursing gloves protects nurses and patients and saves our planet.
We hope you now have everything you need to know about nursing gloves.
Don’t hesitate to send us if you still have further questions.