What are Exam Gloves?

Mary McMahon

Exam gloves are gloves which are designed to be used in medical examinations, surgery, and other medical environments. For the safety of patients and first responders, they are disposable, designed to be discarded after use or if the gloves become damaged. Medical supply companies sell exam gloves in high volumes, usually in boxes of 100 or more for hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities. It is also possible for consumers to buy smaller packages of exam gloves for various tasks around the home.

Exam gloves are used to protect the surgeons, nurses and patient in the operating room.
Exam gloves are used to protect the surgeons, nurses and patient in the operating room.

Classically, exam gloves have been made from latex, a highly flexible material which allows a great deal of fine motor skills and control. Latex exam gloves are also inexpensive to produce, which is a distinct advantage in a disposable product which is used in high volume. Traditionally, the gloves are powdered to make them easier to put on, although powder-free latex gloves are also available. When people think of exam gloves, they usually think of latex gloves, since they are so widely used.

Latex exam gloves.
Latex exam gloves.

Due to concerns about latex sensitivity, some alternatives to latex exam gloves have been developed, including vinyl and nitrile gloves. These gloves tend to be less expensive, which can be a concern for some facilities. They are also harder to use, and they often offer less control, which can be a critical issue for doctors and first responders, as hand sensitivity is important when offering medical care. Patients with latex sensitivity should definitely specify this, as most care providers will reach for the latex gloves first.

Most exam gloves are produced in an array of sizes for different hands, from extra small to extra large. It is important to use gloves which are the right size, as gloves which are too small can crack or split, causing a contamination hazard, while gloves which are too large can decrease fine motor skills while providing folds and pockets which could contribute to contamination. Gloves may be color-coded by size to make it easier for medical staffers to grab the right size in a hurry.

While exam gloves are primarily designed for use by medical personnel, they can have other uses. It is a very good idea to keep a pair of packaged exam gloves in car and home first aid kits, so that the gloves can be pulled on before administering first aid for everyone's safety. Exam gloves can also be worn while applying hair dye or engaging in other messy tasks where hand protection might be useful.

A person wearing exam gloves.
A person wearing exam gloves.

Discussion Comments


What about synthetic gloves? I usually buy gloves online but don't see any synthetics there. What about synthetic gloves? Where can I buy that and how do they compare to vinyl and latex?

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