Latex allergy: symptoms, diagnosis, treatments

Latex allergy: symptoms, diagnosis, treatments

Latex allergy is a term that describes the range of allergic reactions to substances in natural latex. An allergy is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system. Allergic reactions appear when a person's immune system reacts to nontoxic substances in the environment, in this case latex.

Latex can be natural or synthetic. It is found in the milky fluid that exists in about 10% of angiosperms (flowering plants). Latex is a complex emulsion (mixture of at least two liquids that are normally unblendable), consisting of resins, tannins, oils, sugars, starches, alkaloids, proteins and gums that go hard when exposed to air. Plants usually exude latex after there are injured, rather like a human bleeds after a skin lesion. Natural latex is usually white, but can be scarlet, orange, and yellow. Plants use latex as a defense against insects.

Rubber gloves are the main source of allergic reactions. Latex is also used in a wide range of products, such as condoms and some medical devices. Latex is used in over 40,000 products with many different uses.

Examples of products we use that may have latex in them, include:

  • Band-Aids (UK: sticky plasters)
  • Balloons
  • Blood pressure cuffs
  • Bottle nipples
  • Condoms
  • Catheters
  • Dental items, such as dams and orthodontic rubber bands
  • Diaphrams
  • Erasers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Helmets
  • IV tubes
  • Elastic waistbands in pants and underwear
  • Pacifiers
  • Rubber bands
  • Rubber cement (used in schools and offices)
  • Rugs and bathmats
  • Shoes
  • Some articles of clothing
  • Some medical devices
  • Surgical gloves
  • Teething toys
  • Toys
  • Ventilator tubing
  • Watch bands.

Not all the brands contain latex. People with allergies should check the labels, or get in touch with the manufacturer.

Latex may be present in unexpected places

The AAAAI (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology) warns that less-visible elements in unexpected environments may also pose a danger for latex exposure. (Link to article)

Donald H. Beezhold, PhD, FAAAAI, chair of the AAAAI Latex Allergy Committee, said:

Consider that restaurant meals are frequently prepared by cooks wearing latex gloves. In schools, the cafeteria may be a threat, but there is also potential exposure to latex in school supplies. This type of inadvertent exposure poses a serious health risk to millions of Americans."

Causes of latex allergy

The exact cause of latex allergies is unknown. It appears that repeated and frequent exposure to latex and rubber products may bring on symptoms in some people.

Since the late 1980´s there has been a dramatic rise worldwide in allergy to latex. A logical explanation is the use of universal precautions for preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as the AIDS virus. As a result, the use of latex gloves is nowadays widespread. Frequent exposures to latex and rubber products are common. Health care workers are at particular risk for latex allergy.

According to the AAAAI, over 10% of healthcare workers are thought to have a latex allergy, as well as more than half of all spina bifida patients. Between 1% to 6% of the general population are allergic, experts believe.

Allergic people's immune systems identify latex as a pathogen - a substance or organism which harms health. Experts say that susceptible people react to a protein in the sap of the rubber tree. The immune system triggers cells in the body to produce IgE (immunoglobulin E); these are antibodies which fight the latex component. The next time the body comes into contact with latex, the IgE antibodies sense it and signal the immune system to release chemicals, including histamine into the bloodstream.

The more a susceptible person is exposed to latex, the greater their immune system is likely to be - this is called sensitization.

What is latex?

Latex, as we know it for human use, is a natural product which comes from a fluid that is extracted from the rubber tree found in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Latex surgical gloves

During manufacturing this fluid is often modified. Different procedures are involved in the manufacturing process. Often, in the case of rushed production the latex product is not thoroughly washed. As a result, more "free" latex is present on the surface. This "free" latex is responsible for a significant proportion of latex allergies.

The powder used in surgical gloves is a major problem. Latex easily sticks to the powder that is commonly used in surgical gloves. During use, the gloves frequently "snap" when we are putting them on or taking them off. This snapping sends the powder into the air. This powder often has latex stuck to it. Inhaled latex can be a serious allergic problem.

On the next page we look at the different types of latex allergy and who is at risk for developing it. On the final page we discuss the diagnosis of latex allergy and the available treatments.

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Latex Allergy ¦ Treatment and Symptoms (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Disease