Rubber and Latex Allergies: From Flip Flops to Gloves

I received an email yesterday of the dangers of Wal-Mart flip flops. Apparently, several people have gotten “burns” on their feet after wearing flip flops purchased at Wal-Mart. I did a little searching thinking this may be an allergy as opposed to the China conspiracy many others believe. According to a story on, it is, yes, probably due to a reaction to a rubber and/or latex allergy.

According to Dr. Nanette Silverberg, director of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, “the burning sensation is most likely due to allergies to the rubber on the shoes or to the chemical components used to break down the rubber in the shoes.” It is probably not due to chemicals in the shoes because then many more people would have had the reaction. Silverberg explains that it is probably a rubber reaction which is not as severe as a latex reaction. These particular reactions were self-contained (it remained right where the rubber touched the feet), whereas, latex reactions can lead to more serious reactions, such as hives and anaphylaxis.

Interestingly enough, people in the medical profession have the highest rate of latex allergies. This is due to the amount of contact they have with latex, in particular, gloves. I began to wonder what if the patient has an unknown latex allergy and comes in contact to the latex through gloves used by the doctors and nurses in surgery. How dangerous could that be?

Apparently quite dangerous, as latex gloves are being phased out and new and safer types of gloves are being used. The article, Rubber Gloves: “Born” And Now Banished, discusses the creation of latex gloves at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and now how Johns Hopkins is ending use of all latex products.

Because of the high use of latex in medical supplies, not only in gloves, and the high incidence of dangerous latex allergies, new materials are being used to create these same products. It is the natural proteins found in latex and rubber, from the rubber plant, (just like in food) that causes the reaction. Therefore, alternatives have been created that don’t have the natural plant proteins. The replacement gloves which are now available are made of one of three synthetic products — neoprene, polyisoprene or vinyl, none of which contain natural plant proteins.

As the article states, it is fitting that The Johns Hopkins Hospital is where the first latex gloves were developed and introduces, then at Johns Hopkins, immunologists Robert Hamilton, Ph.D., and Franklin Adkinson, M.D. were the ones to conduct early key research related to the problems of natural rubber latex as an allergen. Now, the same hospital is taking the initiative to promote better alternatives. Needless to say, the medical world is always changin!

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 epipen with you at all times in case of emergency.

One comment

  1. I was a CNA working in a hospital in the early 90’s when within a few months after wearing latex gloves I developed a latex allergy, not only did I have a rash on my hands but where my bra and underwear touched as well as nylons or socks. I ended up within a 6 months having respiratory symptoms after working a shift, ended up going to our ER and was diagnosed with bronchitis, given an updraft treatment and sent how with an inhaler! Within a month or so after than I started to get welts on my hands as well as anywhere else that rubber touched me. I again went to our ER and was told I had scabies and was given told not to come back to work for two weeks after treating myself with Kwell!! I told the ER doctor I wouldn’t use Kwell and he said it wouldn’t hurt! I took the doctor release and a few days later, when I was a bloody mess from all the scratching I was doing, I went to a urgent care to get a second oppinion. I told that doctor that I was diagnosed with scabies by the ER doctor. He asked to see all the rashes I had he was freaking out, he told me you don’t have scabies, not sure what you have, but I’m guessing some kind of contact dermatitis and made an appointment for me with a new dermatologist. A few days later I went to see her and she knew right away that I had a latex allergy. It don’t stop there. The derm. doctor told me that she would order that the hospital give me some non latex gloves….Well, don’t think they jumped on that one! I lasted a few more months and quit, my symptoms were getting worse, including shortness of breath. Once I quit the worker comp company refuse to cover my meds(corticosteroids and Hydroxyzine) It ended up being a very ugly workers comp case, but how it finally came to an end is both good and bad. I was sent to a teaching hospital to see a professor of dermatology, I put on a glove that I got from where I had worked and with 6 minutes I was in anaphylactic reaction! But that wasn’t good enough for the workers comp, so the professor of dermatology decided she would fight for me and did an awesome job. She was able to find a assistant professor of pulmonary and between the two the came up with a sure fire way to prove I had a life threatening latex allergy. They did a blind glove test, did all the baseline vitals and off they went, lasted all day. There was three types of gloves (I didn’t know this) but one was vinyl another was low protein latex the last was the one I was using at work (which by the way was a high protein latex glove)To cut this already long comment down, I will say this, the low second low protein glove caused me to itch a little, which caused me anxiety because of the obvious reasons, then 4 hours later the last, high protein glove from work was put on, the doctor or nurse didn’t go far from my exam room (I was assured early on that they would be ready in case I experienced anaphylactic shock) I started to get welts, red blotches, hives, audible wheezing, I tore the glove off and was fine, but was monitored for quite a while after that. Because of my reactions OHSU (Oregon Health Science University)changed the protocol for testing patients for latex allergies, a blood draw was done to look for the latex antigen. That was almost 20 years ago, and there is still latex being used for medical devices! I am super careful what I touch (if it looks like latex) and never have to change a tire in my life, but it ruined a nursing career, but like some former co-workers told me, better prior to nursing classes and degree, I think I agree!

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