Alert on Latex Allergies

By staff

Having an allergy to latex is no joke. Latex allergies can be life-threatening. Those who have tendencies to develop the allergy should take steps to avoid material made with latex, and use alternatives if necessary.

Latex, or natural rubber latex, is a milky fluid that is produced by the Hevea brasiliensis, rubber trees found in Asia and in Africa. During commercial processing, chemicals are added to the latex to speed up the curing process, thus keeping the rubber from being overexposed to oxygen. This process of combining other compounds with latex is researched to be one of the causes of most latex allergy symptoms. Also, these compounds contain certain proteins that are known to induce latex allergies. Even if symptoms do not appear immediately, it is thought that repeated exposure to latex and rubber products may induce the allergic reactions.

Ironically, many objects that we use daily are made with latex: rubber gloves, adhesives, rubber toys, rubber bands, balloons, toothbrushes with rubber grips, condoms, pacifiers and bottle nipples. Different medical and dental supplies are also made from latex: surgical gloves, urinary catheters, dental dams, fillings used for root canals, tourniquets and certain resuscitation products. Because of this, rubber industry workers and healthcare workers have a greater risk of developing a latex allergy.

Latex can enter our system through direct contact with our skin, through our mucous membranes (eyes mouth, vagina, and rectum), inhaled from the air (when the powder in rubber gloves flies into the air during the act of wearing and removing the gloves), and into the blood (when some rubberized medical devices are used).

There are two types of latex allergy symptoms: Type I and Type IV allergies. The former is caused by natural proteins, and the latter is due to chemicals that are used to convert the latex to a usable item.  Some reactions are confused to be allergic symptoms but are just actually irritant reactions to latex.

Type IV allergy. This is also known as allergic contact dermatitis which is a delayed reaction to additives used in latex processing. Symptoms appear one to two days after exposure to the allergen. Similar to that of an irritant-induced latex reaction but more severe, Type IV latex allergy is characterized by dry itchy red bumps on our skin. These bumps burn, become scaly, and form crusting rashes. But it does not spread to other parts of the body.  So if a rubber glove made with latex is worn and causes a reaction, the rash would only appear on the hands and stops at the wrist.

Type I allergy. This demonstrates latex hypersensitivity, an immediate, more serious allergic reaction to latex proteins. Initial symptoms would be rhinitis, conjunctivitis (pink eye), cramps, hives, and severe itching. It is rare, but symptoms may progress to include rapid heartbeat, tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and life-threatening anaphylactic shock, and possibility of death.

If you know that you are allergic to latex, it is in your best interest to inform your family, friends, co-workers, and your healthcare providers of your condition. If there is really a need for you to use rubberized objects for your work or for your daily activities, make sure that these do not contain latex. If possible, always carry along with you a MedicAlert bracelet, necklace, or keychain that warns EMTs and doctors that you are allergic to latex. Have an epinephrine self-injection pen with you at all times in case of emergency.

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