Latex is a natural rubber made from the milky sap of the Brazilian rubber tree Hevea Brasiliensis.
It is used in a wide variety of products, including medical gloves and intravenous tubes, similar proteins are even found in popular foods.
An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance as if it were an invader, such as a virus or bacteria.
A large number of antibodies and chemicals are released, including antihistamines, which run to the point of invasion and provoke an inflammatory immune response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, latex allergies affect 1 to 6 percent of Americans.
An allergic reaction to latex can vary from mild to severe. In some cases, it can even endanger life.
This article will help you understand more about the signs of a latex allergy and how you can prevent this potentially dangerous condition.
Allergic reactions to latex most often take the form of a rash at the point of contact, known as contact dermatitis. Signs can include:
- Itching in the hands
- Rash that can be warm to the touch.
- Eczema (denoted as cracked skin).
Such reactions are generally temporary. They can start within a few minutes of exposure, but they can also take several hours to develop.
You may need hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to soothe the rashes that develop.
Latex proteins can sometimes become airborne. When this happens, a hypersensitive person can develop more serious reactions. These may include:
- Swollen, red skin, lips, or tongue.
- Stuffy nose
- Difficulty breathing (with or without wheezing).
- Abdominal pain.
- Fast beats
Anaphylaxis is a rare reaction to latex and can be life-threatening. The symptoms are similar to airborne sensitivities but much more severe.
Anaphylactic shock can cause severe breathing difficulties, decreased blood pressure or even death if left untreated.
The main cause is the continuous contact with products made of latex. Therefore the number of health workers affected by latex allergies is much higher than the average.
In fact, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that between 8 and 17 percent of all health workers have allergies. It is believed that the increased use and exposure to latex is the main reason for the higher rates in this group.
Other people who are at higher risk include:
- Those with allergies related to food.
- Workers in the hairdressing area.
- Children who have spina bifida or who have had multiple surgeries.
- People who require frequent medical procedures, such as catheterization.
- Child care providers.
- Food service workers.
- People who work in rubber manufacturing or tire factories.
What is the treatment for a latex allergy?
Avoiding latex is the main treatment for latex allergy. Latex-free synthetic rubber, such as neoprene, nitrile, butyl and vitron, are polymers available as an alternative to natural rubber.
Certain people at risk for anaphylaxis may benefit from having an epinephrine auto-injector on hand at all times.
There is no current treatment available to desensitize a person who is allergic to latex. For a delayed hypersensitivity reaction to latex, topical or oral steroids may be used to treat the rash.
An anaphylactic reaction to latex should be treated promptly with injectable epinephrine, and mild reactions confined to the skin can be treated with oral antihistamines.
The most important treatment for occupational allergies to latex is to avoid repeated exposures, since repeated exposures can increase sensitivity.
People with latex allergy may need to be reassigned to different work tasks or may need to change careers.
The anaphylaxis , the most severe allergic reaction, can cause the blood vessels to dilate and air passages of the lungs to constrict, causing wheezing, difficulty breathing and decreased blood pressure.
In the most severe cases, the loss of consciousness and death may occur. Anaphylaxis requires an emergency injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) and treatment with intravenous fluids.