What are Latex Exam Gloves?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Latex exam gloves are disposable gloves made from latex, a rubber product which can be produced naturally or synthetically. In most facilities, latex gloves are the standard, since they are inexpensive and ideally suited for a variety of medical applications. Awareness of latex allergies has led to the inclusion of non-latex gloves as an alternative in some facilities to address concerns about allergic reactions. Health care suppliers and drugstores usually stock latex exam gloves for professionals and average consumers.

A person wearing latex gloves.
A person wearing latex gloves.

Latex can be sourced either naturally or synthetically. In either case, the material provides excellent barrier protection, preventing the transmission of viruses and bacteria between a health care provider and a patient. Latex is also a great material for medical gloves because it is thin and flexible, which means that it will not interfere with freedom of movement. Wearing properly-sized latex gloves almost feels like not wearing any gloves at all, which is very important for many aspects of medical care.

Latex exam gloves.
Latex exam gloves.

It is possible to find powdered latex exam gloves, which tend to be easier to put on, along with powder-free versions. In some cases, powdered gloves may not be suitable, as the powder can sometimes cause allergic reactions or other problems. Latex exam gloves are also available in a wide range of sizes to accommodate various hand sizes. The gloves are disposed of after each patient, and they may be changed during the course of an exam for safety.

A well-fitted glove is snug without feeling constrictive. The fingers fit smoothly into the glove with no folds or baggy areas, and the glove will not readily slide off. If a glove is too loose, contaminants can enter the glove, which can be very dangerous, and if a glove is too tight, it may split under the stress, exposing the wearer to health hazards.

Latex exam gloves can be found in exam rooms at hospitals and clinics, and they are also stocked in first aid kits, ambulances, and in other areas where people could potentially be exposed to bodily fluids. Most facilities keep several sizes on hand to ensure that health care providers have access to the right size, and the gloves or cases may be color-coded to make it easy to determine size. If latex-free gloves are also stocked, they are usually colored differently and often kept in a separate area to avoid cross-contamination or accidents in which the wrong gloves are worn by mistake.

Latex exam gloves are commonly seen in hospitals and doctors' offices.
Latex exam gloves are commonly seen in hospitals and doctors' offices.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My husband works in a prison system, and as such I totally understand how latex gloves provide protection that is incredibly important in preventing disease.

You see, it is common that certain contagious diseases, like TB and flu, just overrun the prison population.

Think about it. They are contained with the same people day in and day out, and it’s not like they can open the windows.

So, many different illnesses just take hold there and get passed around for months, or indefinitely.

Well, the inmates are not the only people in the prison who can get sick; so can the guards. So, as a way to help them avoid this, they are taught to use latex gloves and good hand washing guidelines.

I suppose most of these sicknesses are passed through people putting the germs in their mouth, eyes or nose because their hands have been contaminated through touch.

By covering the hands through each cell search and such, the guards can simply peel the germs right off with them and toss them in the garbage.

The gloves they use are just like surgical gloves as far as I can tell.


The oddest thing happened to me, and it seemed that it happened literally just overnight.

I worked with children and adults with physical, behavioral and mental problems for years. I became accustomed to wearing latex gloves for both of our protection during certain activities.

However, one day my hands started to burn while I was wearing them. Wearing them was not unusual in the least, but the burning was.

Eventually, I asked another adult to take my place so that I could go to the restroom and check out the problem.

When I took the gloves off and looked they were covered in little red, but elongated, welts. They looked like they were going to blister, and some did.

After that, I also developed the same allergy to certain band aids and other latex products that caused some pretty painful issues. I was an avid theatre performer who happened to be performing in a show as a much older woman.

I had to quit wearing the latex used for wrinkling. It was almost like the latex literally burned me.

I have no idea what caused it to just happen.


@snickerish - If it is a strong reaction that is running in the family contact to latex might be one of many things but because it is by definition strong, the symptoms might be pink eye or hives to something even more serious like anaphylactic shock!


@mitchell14 - I would like to know what a latex allergy that runs strong in families might look like - what kind of symptoms occur secondary to a serious latex allergy that one might see if something like latex examination gloves touched their hand?


I work in a school with children with severe disabilities and our powder free latex exam gloves are definitely a lifesaver. There is drool and runny noses and our sweet angels cannot wipe this stuff away themselves secondary to their physical disabilities so using these gloves to keep everything sanitary is a part of our job description.

Because of the use of latex gloves at my school, we have noticed a small something that is important when you use latex gloves. It is easy once you put the gloves on to forget not to touch something unsanitary before you touch the something that is supposed to stay sanitary.

For example, you might push your hair out of your face or brush a finger under your own nose before you go to use the glove and then when you go to touch the object you are trying to keep sanitary - you have unknowingly possible made it unsanitary.

The good news is, once you are made aware of the unconscious habit, you immediately become aware of it and I bet that might just be all that it takes to prevent the habit.


@mitchell14- I have a friend who has a shellfish allergy, and when she goes to the doctor or hospital they treat her like someone with an iodine allergy, just in case. Similar to a latex allergy, there are replacements available, though they are likely more expensive. I imagine it would be really hard to go to the hospital though, or even to the doctor for shots, for someone with both latex and iodine allergies.


@myharley- My doctor even asks patients if they have relatives with a latex allergy when he has to use gloves, because it can run strongly in families and sometimes people develop it over time if they stop using latex at home. While I know latex is an amazingly useful thing, I am so glad there is a good replacement out there for people with the allergy.


The nice thing about latex exam gloves, is that they provide protection for both the person who is giving the exam, and the person being examined.

I know that some people are allergic to these and my doctor always asks his first time patients if they have a known allergy to latex gloves.

If you work with patients in any kind of hospital or clinic setting, you get very used to taking latex exam gloves off and on several times a day.

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