Personal protective equipment (PPE) are specialized devices and apparel that protect individuals by acting as a barrier between them and hazardous materials encountered while performing first aid, handling chemicals, etc. In a first aid context, the use of PPE is part of Standard Precautions, strategies to prevent direct contact with a patient’s blood or other potentially infectious body fluids.
Breathing barriers enable the rescuer to provide ventilations without making direct mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose contact with the patient. Breathing barriers include:
- Face shields
- Resuscitation masks
- Bag-valve masks
Breathing barriers must be transparent (for positioning the barrier and detecting vomit, etc.), latex-free, and sized appropriately for the patient. Although some manufacturers of resuscitation masks provide instructions for using adult masks with pediatric patients, appropriately sized resuscitation masks should be used for infants and children.
Resuscitation masks and BVMs must have a one-way valve to channel the patient’s expired air away from the rescuer. The couplings of most resuscitation masks, BVMs, and one-way valves are standard and, therefore, interchangeable. (For example, a BVM can be attached directly to a resuscitation mask already positioned over the patient’s face by simply removing the one-way valve on the mask and attaching the bag-valve portion of the BVM to the mask.)
Medical gloves are a type of PPE used by health care workers and first aid responders to prevent disease transmission while touching a patient and the patient’s body fluids. Medical gloves have the following characteristics:
- Surgeon or examination grade: Surgeon’s gloves (sometimes called surgical or surgery gloves) are FDA-regulated, tactile-sensitive medical devices worn by operating room personnel to handle sterile instruments and to prevent the contamination of surgical wounds. All surgeon’s gloves must be either latex or nitrile, sterile, and powder-free. In contrast, examination gloves are unregulated PPE used for routine medical examinations and first aid care. Examination gloves are made from latex, nitrile, vinyl, or plastic (see below) and can be either sterile or nonsterile and powdered or powder-free.
- Latex or synthetic (nonlatex): Medical gloves can be made from natural rubber
latex (NRL) or a synthetic substance such as nitrile (synthetic rubber), vinyl (polyvinyl chloride), or plastic (polyethylene). Each substance has its advantages and drawbacks:
- Nitrile gloves are very durable, puncture resistant, and chemical resistant. They provide a good fit and the highest level of protection.
- Latex gloves provide good durability and superior comfort and tactile sensitivity. Despite these advantages, latex gloves may cause skin irritations and allergic reactions in patients and first aid/health care providers.
- Vinyl and plastic gloves are the most cost-effective option. While they are adequate for Standard Precautions, they provide less durability and tactile sensitive than latex or nitrile gloves.
- Sterile or nonsterile: Examination gloves can be either sterile or nonsterile; surgeon’s gloves must be sterile. Sterile gloves come in an individual package for a pair of gloves. The outside of the package indicates that the gloves are sterile. Boxed gloves of 50, 100, or 200 count are not sterile. Although nonsterile examination gloves can be used for first aid care, they should be clean and disposed of after a single use.
- Powdered or powder-free: Examination gloves are sometimes powdered with cornstarch to make them easier to slip and off. Cornstarch is nonirritating, but it can interfere with healing if it gets into a patient’s wound. All surgeon’s gloves must be powder-free.
Guidelines for using medical gloves for first aid including the following:
- Wear nonlatex medical gloves during all first aid procedures. Do not use latex gloves for first aid care because they may cause an allergic reaction in your patient.
- Always wash your hands before and after using gloves. While it is acceptable to use a hand sanitizer before putting on gloves, you should wash your hands with soap and warm water for about 15 seconds immediately after removing gloves.
- Remove rings, bracelets, and other jewelry before putting on gloves.
- If you have an open wound on your hand, cover the wound with a bandage before putting on gloves.
- Make sure gloves are clean and in good repair. If you notice any defect or discoloration in a glove, do not use it.
- Never wash gloves with soap and water to prepare them for use.
- Remember that gloves should be disposed of after a single use with one patient only. Never reuse gloves or use the same gloves with two or more patients.
- Do not touch workplace items (e.g., telephone, office equipment, door knobs, etc.) while wearing gloves.
- Remove gloves without touching the soiled outer surfaces with your bare hands. To see the glove removal procedure, click here.
Other Personal Protective Equipment
In addition to breathing barriers and medical gloves, PPE for first aid and health care can include face shields, surgeon’s masks, safety goggles, aprons and gowns, and footwear. These items may be required for first aid care involving spurting or splashing blood and other body fluids (e.g., arterial bleeding, emergency childbirth, blood-spill clean-up, etc.).
Nonmedical PPE should also be mentioned. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend PPE to prevent exposure to chemicals, debris, gases, and other hazards. Nonmedical PPE include hard hats, face shields, safety glasses, masks, air filtration devices, gowns, rubber gloves, and boots.