Latex Allergy

Latex is a natural rubber that is obtained in form of white thick liquid from the tropical rubber tree. The use of rubber and rubber products in various walks of our life is not uncommon. We hardly pass a day without using rubber or any one of its products; we can say that we are exposed to rubber and its products from the day we are born.

Few latex made products that we use in our daily like are baby’s bottle nipple, pacifier, toys, ball, balloon, elastic diapers, sanitary pads, adhesives, band aid, shoes, rubber band, chewing gums, condoms, rubber buttons in remote control and calculator, and tyres are all made from natural rubber called latex.

In addition to all these above mentioned, latex is extensively used in medical field. They are used to make gloves, blood pressure cuffs, dental dams, material used to fill root canal, urinary catheter, elastic bandages, medication vials, tape, mask, stethoscope, bulb syringe, and tourniquet. Such wide range and continuous exposure to latex can make our skin sensitive to it causing mild to severe allergic reactions.

About latex allergy

It is very surprising that despite being one of the most commonly used item in our daily life latex causes allergic reaction in many people. Until a decade ago, latex allergy was described as an unknown condition in medical text.

Latex, the natural rubber, consists of a protein that causes allergic reaction in people. Allergy actually triggers when one’s own immune system acts against the latex protein. Allergic reaction can be as mild as a simple sneeze or it can be as severe as an anaphylactic shock (severe life threatening allergic reaction involving the whole body).

The latex products that are rich in latex protein are gloves, balloons and condoms, which are usually thin and stretchy. The thick, hard latex products do not cause many allergies.

The latex allergic reaction is actually initiated when we inhale the air containing these latex particles. Thin latex products are coated with corn starch powder that attaches itself to the latex protein.

When the gloves or condoms are used or removed frequently, these particles fly into the surrounding air and when inhaled causes allergic reactions.

The onset of allergic reactions usually takes 20-30 minutes. A person who is allergic to latex and its products might experience the following latex allergy symptoms. They are:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Eyes may turn red, watery, and itchy
  • Rashes or hives may develop on the skin
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea

In sensitive people, wearing latex gloves may cause;

  • Rashes
  • Bumps
  • Sores
  • Red cracks in the hands

Symptoms of life threatening allergic reaction called as anaphylactic shock includes;

  • Dizziness
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fast or weak pulse
  • Loss of conscious

These life threatening conditions need immediate medical attention.

Latex allergy is a very common problem that is increasing in rapid pace. There are about 17 million Americans who are sensitive to latex. This increasing sensitivity is attributed to the extensive use and prolonged exposure to latex and latex products. A place sans latex product is difficult to find. Anyone can develop latex allergy. But some groups of people who are placed under high risk category are

  • People working in rubber industry
  • People working in health care centers
  • Risk increases if the person has hay fever
  • People born with Spina bifida (a defect in spine development)
  • People who have undergone many operations from young age
  • People with food allergies
  • People with asthma
  • People with history of non-medication related anaphylactic reactions during anesthesia.

People who are allergic to latex are found to be allergic to some foods items and vice versa. These foods contain a protein similar to the one that is present in latex products and causes allergic reactions.

The most common foods that cause allergic reaction are banana, avocado, passion fruit, kiwi fruit, and chestnuts.

There are many other foods that may cause allergy but avoiding all of them may lead to improper nutrition. Therefore, it is sensible only to avoid those foods, which has already triggered an allergic reaction.

Latex allergy is suspected, if someone develops some kind of allergic reactions shortly after being exposed to latex. If at all, any latex allergy reaction is faced, then do not delay in fixing an appointment with a physician, preferably one who is experienced in treating people with latex allergy.

Doctor may examine the symptoms in details, which in most cases is sufficient for identifying latex allergy.

In few, doctor may perform laboratory tests like patch test. This is done to see the allergic reaction when the substance is contacted. This should be done only by very well experienced and trained physician as it might result in serious allergic reactions.

Skin tests may be done where the skin is rubbed or pricked by an object containing a drop of liquid latex protein, a positive reaction confirms latex allergy. This should be done only under the guidance of well-experienced physician.

In addition, blood tests and latex allergy tests are done to detect the presence of latex antibodies.

The best treatment for latex allergy is to prevent contact with latex and its products. Start with listing down the latex products that is used every day at home or at work place, find out a substitute for these products and make sure that all the latex products are replaced by its substitutes.

Non latex rubber gloves should be used, if working in a health care center. The person should make sure that people working around him are using powder free latex gloves or non latex gloves so that he/she doesn’t inhale latex particles.

Allergic person can wear a medical bracelet or necklace showing that he/she is allergic to latex, in case of medical emergency.

The person can consult the physician about using histamine in case of mild allergic reaction and epinephrine or adrenalin self-injection pen in case of severe allergic reaction. The dosage of epinephrine depends on the severity of symptoms.

Once hospitalized other supportive treatment procedure will be decided by the doctor. This would bring an allergy relief for the person suffering from the allergic condition.