A Medical Glove Industry Overview: With Nitrile Gloves, Durability and Safety Go Hand in Hand

First introduced in the late 1800s, medical gloves were initially used for surgical procedures occurring in hospital settings. Since the original introduction of the protective offering, the multitude of uses for medical-grade gloves has grown exponentially spanning from emergency medical treatment to beauty services. 
A vital part of health and safety for medical professionals and patients alike, medical gloves are an important aspect of personal protective equipment (PPE) that needs to be kept in high supply in all care settings.  After decades of change in the healthcare industry, availability of materials, scientific advancement, and production capabilities, there are numerous disposable medical glove options on the market to consider. Let’s take a look at the most common medical glove types and take an opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each. 

Nitrile Gloves

By far the most commonly used medical glove on the market, nitrile gloves are made of synthetic rubber that make them ideal for multi-industry use. From a materials perspective nitrile rubber is more resistant to oils, acids and chemicals than natural rubber and nitrile gloves are stronger than latex and vinyl gloves, making them less likely to snap when pulled on. 
Nitrile gloves are also puncture-resistant, which can become increasingly important in many emergency medical situations where EMTs, firefighters and other first responders may encounter personally endangering situations, including exposed needles or broken glass. Nitrile gloves are also allergen-free, and therefore considered a safe choice for emergency medical situations where a patient may not be able to share their medical history, which may contain a latex allergy. Preferred by nearly every industry using disposable medical gloves, nitrile gloves are a versatile option that put safety and comfort first. 

Latex Gloves

Latex gloves are, historically, what one thinks of when picturing a traditional medical glove. For decades, latex gloves were the medical industry standard. However, the increasing prevalence of latex allergies has knocked them off of the top of the list. Providers must ensure the safety of their patients who may unknowingly have a latex allergy, so in the 21st century, latex gloves are no longer the norm. 

Vinyl Gloves

Plasticized PVC or vinyl is another common glove material. Vinyl gloves traditionally offer less flexibility and elasticity than nitrile or latex gloves and are therefore not recommended for any clinical care or medical procedures requiring attention to detail. Because they can also cause skin reactions, vinyl gloves are not recommended for direct patient care for long treatment periods. 
Vinyl gloves also break down easily in the presence of many common chemicals, including alcohols used in medical-grade disinfectants. While inexpensive, the drawbacks associated with this type of gloves make them a poor choice for medical settings. 

Neoprene Gloves

Disposable neoprene gloves have made their way into the market in recent years. Generally a material first thought of for its scuba diving associations (hello, wetsuits!), neoprene is actually a very flexible material that maintains its shape and consistency in a range of temperatures. The material is extremely durable and resistant to twisting and bending and can generally outlast all other medical glove materials outlined above. 
While neoprene gloves are a great newcomer to the medical glove market, the material is less common to find for medical use and is therefore very cost prohibitive. Until medical-grade neoprene is more widely available, gloves made of the material are unlikely to be widely used.  

A Head-to-Head Comparison: Nitrile vs. Latex Medical Gloves 

The differences between nitrile and latex gloves are subtle. While nitrile gloves are not as flexible or stretchy as latex gloves, they are more durable and chemically resistant. From a medical perspective, durability and resistance to chemicals are extremely important to keep both the provider and patient safe, and therefore nitrile gloves are preferred. 
While latex gloves are usually less expensive, provide more manual dexterity, and are more biodegradable than nitrile gloves, the health benefits of nitrile gloves outweigh those of latex gloves, making them the favored medical glove for emergency and urgent care settings. 

A Head-to-Head Comparison: Vinyl vs. Nitrile Medical Gloves

As discussed earlier, vinyl gloves made from PVC are the cheapest non-latex glove option available. While the price can be enticing for medical practices and EMS companies, the material is not well suited to protect against viruses and chemicals and may cause skin reactions for some wearers and patients alike. Alternatively, nitrile gloves offer a very high degree of protection against may viruses and the number of adverse skin events while wearing nitrile gloves is significantly lower than vinyl gloves. 

Purchasing Medical Gloves

Interested in purchasing nitrile gloves for your urgent care facility, medical center, or emergency medical service company? Code 1 Supply carries a range of nitrile gloves in all sizes to protect your staff and patients.  Need help determining the gloves that will work best for you, reach out to our team for guidance

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