Three Tips for Choosing the Right Exam Gloves

Female surgeon putting on surgical exam gloves
E

xam gloves may seem like the simplest medical supply choice - but there are actually a plethora of options, and different clinical settings call for different exam gloves. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the perfect exam gloves.

Uses

The first step to choosing the right exam gloves is determining how you will be using the gloves. There are many different healthcare settings that can require exam gloves, including physician offices, specialty clinics, phlebotomy sites, laboratories, long-term care, pharmacies, oncology clinics, home care, urgent care, emergency rooms and more.

Gloves might not be necessary in all situations. For example, if there is no potential for exposure to blood, body fluids or a contaminated environment — such as taking the blood pressure of a healthy patient — then gloves usually aren’t required. Administrative tasks such as answering the phone or writing in the patient chart usually don’t require gloves either.

However, gloves should be used if there’s a chance you will be exposed to blood, body fluids, secretions and excretions, as well as any items soiled by these fluids, such as bed linens or used bandages. Examining a wound, inserting an IV and cleaning surgical instruments are just a few examples of the many times when exam gloves are necessary.

Woman working in a laboratory wearing exam gloves
Female nurse putting on exam gloves

Types

No matter what material they’re made from, exam gloves usually fall into two categories: sterile and non-sterile. While many medical practitioners opt for sterile gloves to prevent infection, non-sterile gloves may still be used when fluid contact isn’t necessary, such as when a patient comes in for an annual wellness check.

Tasks that require a lot of dexterity and tactile sensitivity, such as surgery, require gloves that offer superior comfort, fit and flexibility — hence the reason such gloves are referred to as “surgical style.” For tasks that don’t require such qualities, general-purpose examination style gloves are appropriate.

Exam gloves also used to be offered in both powdered and non-powdered forms. Powdered gloves were easier to put on and take off because the powder (usually cornstarch or lycopodium powder) reduced friction. However, these powders were found to lead to inflammation, allergic reactions and sometimes even postoperative complications in patients. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned powdered gloves in January 2017.

Materials

Exam gloves are usually made from one of three materials: nitrile, rubber latex and vinyl (polyvinyl chloride). Each type of material has both pros and cons to its use and is appropriate for different clinical situations.

  • Nitrile Nitrile exam gloves are made from a synthetic rubber that doesn’t contain latex, making the gloves more durable and reducing the chance that someone will have an allergic reaction to them. Nitrile exam gloves provide good barrier protection and good resistance to a variety of chemicals that the glove might be exposed to, which is why they’re widely used in a variety of clinical settings. Nitrile exam gloves come in both sterile and non-sterile versions, although they tend to cost a little more than latex gloves.
  • Rubber latex Also made from synthetic rubber, latex gloves unite flexibility and comfort with good barrier protection and chemical resistance. Because of latex’s high elasticity, these exam gloves are easy to wear for long periods of time and retain their shape and fit despite vigorous movement. However, latex gloves have one large drawback: Those with latex allergies can experience adverse reactions ranging from a skin rash to anaphylactic shock. Manufacturers have been experimenting with different latex formulations to try to reduce the number of protein and chemical allergens, so some types of latex gloves may be less likely to cause an allergic reaction than others.
  • Vinyl Vinyl exam gloves are made with polyvinyl chloride combined with plasticizers to soften the material. While they don’t contain latex, they may contain chemicals, curing agents and other potential allergens. Although they’re on the cheaper side, these gloves are susceptible to tearing, puncturing and otherwise breaking when put under significant stress, so their barrier protection isn’t as reliable as nitrile or rubber latex. Vinyl gloves also have limited elasticity, which can reduce fit, comfort and mobility, especially with extended use. As a result, vinyl gloves are often used for basic examinations and other clinical situations when a lot of tactile sensitivity and high barrier resistance aren’t required.
  • Other materials While less common than the three types already mentioned, exam gloves are also made from neoprene and polyisoprene, both of which offer latex-free formulations. Neoprene gloves are extremely comfortable to wear and are available in both surgical and exam style gloves, though they tend to be more expensive than other materials. Polyisoprene is similar to latex gloves in terms of fit and feel, though it might offer reduced barrier protection compared to the traditional exam gloves.
  • Most Accurate Pulse Oximeter — At the end of the day, every single medical professional should prioritize accuracy when shopping for pulse oximeters. As previously mentioned, the most accurate pulse oximeters will provide a reading within 2 percent accuracy. By and large, almost all of the modern oximetry devices will provide a reading within this range. But when you’re shopping for these devices, look for the “±2%” mark to be sure that it’s as accurate as possible. Again, it may be worth investing in a style that has an accuracy indicator that alerts you if the reading may not be as accurate as it could be due to a variety of factors.

Keep these criteria in mind to ensure you’re choosing the right exam gloves the next time you place an order.

Female doctor wearing exam gloves examining young patient

More Articles

Shop This Look

Most Flattering Scrubs: Ulitmate Scrubs Fit Guide

Ultimate Scrubs Fit Guide

READ NOW

Why Do Nurses Love Dansko Shoes?

Learn why nurses love their expansive collection of comfortable, durable clogs and shoes.

READ NOW

How to Choose the Best Stethoscope for You

Explore the allheart stethoscope buyer's guide to discover which stethoscope is best for your role, budget and personal needs.

READ NOW

History of the Otoscope

Get a history lesson on the otoscope and to discover how this essential medical device has transformed over time.

READ NOW

Barco Uniforms: Stylish Scrubs to Classic Lab Coats

Learn why we love Barco Uniforms and discover what the brand has to offer at allheart.com, including trendy Grey’s Anatomy™ scrubs and more.

READ NOW

Beyond Compression Socks: A Nurse's Guide to Leg and Foot Self-Care

Learn the best ways to care for your legs and feet as a nurse through compression socks, comfortable shoes and self-care tips.

READ NOW