Healthcare worker - common causes of asthma


Natural Rubber Latex (NRL) can be found in many products used in health and social care. It has been extensively used in the manufacture of medical gloves (non-sterile examination gloves, surgical gloves) because it is a very durable and flexible material giving wearers a high degree of dexterity, sensitivity and microbiological protection. It is also used in a range of medical devices.

Natural rubber latex proteins have the potential to cause asthma and dermatitis. Although rare, more serious allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis are also possible. The amount of latex exposure needed to induce sensitisation is unknown. A substance which causes sensitisation can also cause an allergic reaction in certain people. Once sensitisation has taken place, further exposure to the substance, even to low levels, may cause a reaction. Increasing the exposure to latex proteins increases the risk of inducing a sensitised state and triggering allergic symptoms.

Latex allergies in health and social care

Diathermy and surgical smoke

Diathermy is a surgical technique which uses heat from an electric current to cut tissue or seal bleeding vessels. Diathermy emissions can contain toxic gases, particles and vapours and are usually invisible to the naked eye. Their inhalation can adversely affect the respiratory system of those exposed. The risks vary according to individual circumstances, such as the procedure, equipment, environment, technique and patient.

Diathermy and surgical smoke

Case studies

These case studies are all real incidents with real and often serious long-term consequences for the people involved.

Further information


You can find more guidance and information for healthcare workers on the Asthma publications - healthcare pages.

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