Natural rubber latex comes from a liquid in tropical rubber trees. This liquid is processed to make many of the following rubber products used at home and at work such as balloons, dishwashing gloves, waistbands on clothing, rubber toys, pacifiers and baby-bottle nipples, rubber bands, adhesive tape and bandages, diapers and sanitary pads, and condoms.
In addition, many medical and dental supplies contain latex, including gloves, blood pressure cuffs, urinary catheters, dental dams and material used to fill root canals, as well as tourniquets and equipment for resuscitation. Non-latex substitutes can be found for all of these latex-containing items.
What is Latex Allergy?
Allergic rhinitis affects about 50 million Americans of all ages. As with asthma and many upper respiratory infections, the incidence in allergic rhinitis is increasing. Allergies most often appear first in childhood, and allergic rhinitis is the most common chronic condition in childhood, although it can develop at any age. About 20% of allergic rhinitis cases are due to seasonal allergies, 40% to perennial (chronic) rhinitis, and the rest are mixed. Allergic rhinitis appears to have a genetic component. People with a parent who has allergic rhinitis have an increased risk of developing allergic rhinitis themselves. The risk increases significantly if both parents have allergic rhinitis.
Treatment options include, environmental control measures, nasal washes, drugs that reduce the inflammatory response are important for preventing moderate or severe allergic rhinitis Nasal corticosteroids (commonly called steroids) are now considered to be the most effective measure for preventing allergy attacks. Antihistamines relieve sneezing and itching and can prevent nasal congestion before an allergy attack, or may be used to treat symptoms. Immunotherapy (“allergy shots”) may be considered as well. They may also prevent or help manage asthma and the development of new allergies in children.
Latex allergy can be mild or severe, with symptoms such as itchy, red, watery eyes, sneezing or runny nose, coughing, rash or hives, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. Some people who wear latex gloves get bumps, sores, cracks or red, raised areas on their hands. These symptoms usually appear 12 to 36 hours after contact with latex. Changing to non-latex gloves, using glove liners, and paying more attention to hand care can help relieve these symptoms. A person who is highly allergic to latex can also have a life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylactic shock. Someone having an anaphylactic reaction needs immediate medical attention.
Who is at Risk?
Health care workers and rubber industry workers seem to have the highest risk for latex allergy. Health care workers with hay fever have an especially high chance of developing a latex allergy, as 25% of all health care workers with hay fever show signs of being latex sensitized. People also at risk are those who have had many operations (especially in childhood), people who have spina bifida, and people who have a food allergy. Latex products are everywhere. Anyone can develop a latex allergy.
Is there a Connection Between Latex and Food Allergies?
Because some proteins in rubber are similar to food proteins, some foods may cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to latex. The most common of these foods are banana, avocado, chestnut, kiwi fruit, potato, tomato, and shellfish. Although many other foods can cause an allergic reaction, avoiding all of them might cause nutritional problems. Therefore, it’s recommended that you avoid only the foods that have already given you an allergic reaction.
What should I do if I think I have a Latex Allergy?
See an allergist who has experience in treating latex allergy. Your doctor will take a detailed history and may confirm the diagnosis with a blood test. Skin testing is usually not used to test for latex allergy, except in some specialized centers. It can cause severe reactions if it isn’t done by an experienced person.