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Glutaraldehyde - A hazard for healthcare workers

Though they may not know it, many healthcare workers are regularly exposed to glutaraldehyde. When inhaled in sufficient quantities or accidently ingested, this disinfectant can result in adverse health effects. In this blog post, we will discuss the effects of glutaraldehyde exposure and some things healthcare workers can do to protect themselves.

What is glutaraldehyde?

Glutaraldehyde is a cold disinfectant used to sterilize dialysis instruments, surgical instruments, endoscopes, ear nose and throat instruments, and other medical equipment. It's also used as a fixative in histology and pathology labs and as a hardening agent in x-ray development. Hospital workers typically use a diluted solution of glutaraldehyde mixed with water.

Trade names include Cidex®, Hospex®, Metricide®, Omnicide®, Rapicide®, Sonacide®, Sporicidin® and Wavicide®.

Effects of glutaraldehyde exposure

Hospital workers who have been exposed to glutaraldehyde may suffer these adverse health effects:

  • Nose irritation, sneezing, and wheezing
  • Nosebleed
  • Throat and lung irritation
  • Asthma, asthma-like symptoms, and breathing difficulty
  • Burning eyes and conjunctivitis
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Hives
  • Rash or allergic dermatitis
  • Discoloration of the hands (brownish or tan stains)

How healthcare workers can protect themselves

People who work in dialysis clinics, central hospital sterilizing units, surgical facilities, gastroenterology and cardiology departments, pathology labs and x-ray departments are most susceptible to glutaraldehyde exposure. By taking these proactive measures, they can minimize the possibility of health problems:

  • Familiarize themselves with the signs of glutaraldehyde exposure
  • Use gloves and aprons made of nitrile or butyl rubber, because latex gloves do not provide adequate protection
  • Wear goggles or a facemask when handling glutaraldehyde
  • Use only the amount of glutaraldehyde solution needed for the completion of the job
  • If possible, keep glutaraldehyde baths under a ventilated hood
  • After using glutaraldehyde, remove gloves and wash hands
  • Firmly seal all vessels that contain glutaraldehyde
  • In the event of glutaraldehyde exposure, immediately wash the eyes or skin

Healthcare workers who have suffered work-related injuries or occupational diseases may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. they should speak with an attorney if they have questions about a claim.

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