Latex allergy: Should I be worried?

The bodily reactions of an individual with latex allergy can be serious and rarely deadly. If an individual has this type of allergy, he/she must limit or avoid future exposure to any latex products.

Those who face a higher risk for developing latex allergy include:

  • Healthcare workers who frequently use latex gloves
  • Individuals who have undergone several surgical procedures
  • Individuals with other allergies such as hay fever or food allergies
  • Individuals who are often exposed to natural rubber latex including those in the rubber industry.
    latex-allergy

    These symptoms generally start within minutes of exposure to products that contain latex.

Close look on natural rubber latex

Natural rubber latex is derived from the sap of the rubber tree which is found in Southeast Asia and Africa. An allergic reaction to latex-based products arise among individuals are allergic or highly sensitized to the proteins present in natural rubber latex.

It is important to note that natural rubber latex must not be confused with the synthetic variant made from chemicals.

Latex is a common ingredient in various dental and medical supplies such as dental dams, disposable gloves, syringes, airway and intravenous tubing, dressings, catheters, stethoscopes and bandages. It is also present in various consumer products such as handbags, condoms, athletic shoes, balloons, tools, tires, rubber toys, underwear leg and waistbands, pacifiers, baby bottles and nipples.

What are the indications?

In most instances, the symptoms of latex allergy arise after several exposures. The usual indications include:

  • Hives
  • Stuffed or runny nose
  • Itchiness
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing

These symptoms generally start within minutes of exposure to products that contain latex. A severe reaction or anaphylaxis can cause significant breathing difficulty and/or a drastic drop in the blood pressure.

Skin issues can arise after direct exposure to the latex proteins present in gloves. A reaction includes redness, itchiness and swelling of the skin. Another form of skin reaction is called allergic contact dermatitis which is triggered by the chemicals utilized in manufacturing rubber gloves. This is characterized by eczema and blisters on the back part of the hands. It strikingly resembles a poison ivy rash and starts 1-3 days after using rubber gloves.

Management of latex allergy

The ideal management for latex allergy is complete avoidance, if possible. If an individual is susceptible to a severe reaction, he/she must wear a medical alert card or bracelet and always bring an epinephrine auto-injector as emergency treatment.

Healthcare workers with history of sensitivity to latex must not use latex gloves. It is recommended to switch to synthetic gloves instead.

Individuals with latex allergy are susceptible to asthma upon exposure to the latex-containing vaporizers. They must avoid areas where milled latex gloves or other products are used.

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