Latex is a protein that comes from the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree.
Healthcare professionals, those who use condoms, and those who work in rubber industries are at risk of developing a latex allergy, as well as individuals with a weaker immune system or who have other allergies.
The symptoms of a latex allergy include itching, burning sensation, redness, and pain at the affected area. A latex allergy is caused by an immune system response, which treats rubber or latex items as foreign entities that may cause harm to the body. There are treatments available to provide relief from the symptoms.
What Is a Latex Allergy?
The term “latex” refers to the protein that is available in the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree, which is also called Hevea brasiliensis. It also refers to any natural rubber product made from the sap. There are various products used in daily life that are made from latex, such as rubber balls, rubber bands, bandages, balloons, condoms, household gloves, certain medical devices, diaphragms, and many more. If there is any kind of contact with these products, the body reacts and causes an allergic reaction. In some individuals, an allergic reaction can occur simply by inhaling latex fibers present in the air, whereas for others, skin contact can lead to the allergy. However, doctors are still unsure about the exact cause of a latex allergy, but it is said that repeated exposure could be one of the reasons behind it.
One should not confuse latex products with synthetic latex, which is available in the latex paint. Any kind of exposure to synthetic latex would not cause symptoms pertaining to the allergy, since synthetic latex does not come from the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree, as is the case with the other latex.
Who Are at Risk of a Latex Allergy?
Around fifteen percent of health workers have some form of allergy, and below is a list of individuals who are also at risk of having a latex allergy:
Individuals who had more than one surgery or operation
Individuals with food allergies to kiwis, bananas, and avocados
Those with a deformed urinary tract or bladder
Individuals with a defect in bone marrow cells
Individuals suffering from medical conditions such as asthma, eczema, or any other allergy
Those who have a urinary catheter with a rubber tip
Apart from health workers, those who work in the rubber industry and those who use condoms are also at risk of getting a latex allergy.
Exposure to Latex
There are various ways one can be exposed to latex:
Contact with skin, for example, when you wear latex gloves
Inhalation, wherein latex particles are present in the air. For example, rubber gloves contain a certain powder that can be inhaled.
Exposure through blood, which usually happens when any device with rubber comes in contact with blood.
Exposure through the mucous membrane, such as the vagina, mouth, rectum, or eyes
Below are the commonly experienced latex allergy symptoms:
Swelling, itching sensation, and redness post-contact with any latex items
If you have been blowing up a balloon, you would experience swollen lips along with itching sensation.
If you have been using bandages, the skin where the bandage was applied would start to itch and would turn red and swollen.
If you’ve had a dental check-up and the dentist used latex gloves in your mouth, the mouth would start to itch, along with swelling in the mouth and tongue.
If an individual has used a condom, it would lead to itching and swelling.
After any vaginal or rectal exams done by the doctor, who used rubber gloves, it can cause swelling and an itching sensation.
Individuals who are highly allergic to any kind of latex item tend to have severe reactions as well. In such cases, even if there are smaller traces of latex in the air, if it has been inhaled, it could lead to a severe reaction, which in some instances would lead to hospitalization. The severe reaction would include a runny nose, inflammation in the eyes, hives, trouble breathing, certain symptoms similar to asthma, swelling of the affected body part, and, most severely, anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe symptom that can lead to death. Hence, one should not ignore signs that suggest one is allergic to latex. if the individual has been exposed to latex for a longer duration of time, it can lead to chronic cases like asthma.
Types of Latex Reactions
There are three main types of latex reactions:
Irritant contact dermatitis: This is a very common reaction towards natural rubber latex, but it cannot be termed an allergy. When latex comes into contact with the skin, it leads to irritant contact dermatitis. The symptoms include the breakout of a red, itchy rash that tends to appear at least twelve to twenty-four hours after the latex contact. The factors causing irritant contact dermatitis are friction irritation due to the powder of latex gloves, frequent cases of hand washing, but not drying completely, and frequent use of hand sanitizer. Any user who wears latex powder gloves can develop this condition, and in those who already have an allergy, it could be a warning sign that there are chances of developing a latex allergy, hence, one needs to be cautious.
IgE mediated reactions (Type I): This is an allergic reaction to the proteins found in natural rubber latex. The immune system creates antibodies called immunoglobulin E antibodies, or IgE. These antibodies tend to react with the proteins in the latex, which leads to allergic reactions. An allergic reaction can occur when the latex proteins come in direct contact with the skin, a mucous membrane, such as the mouth, or by inhaling them into the lungs. This type of allergic reaction is often deemed severe and poses a great risk to the life of the individual, hence, it is advisable to avoid latex in any form. The symptoms that usually show up are very similar to those of hay fever and nasal allergies: cramps, low blood pressure, chest pain, conjunctivitis, severe itching, increase in heartbeat, tremors, and severe allergic reactions, which can be life-threatening.
Cell mediated contact dermatitis (Type IV): Inflammation of the skin is also known as dermatitis, and cell mediated contact dermatitis is a type of allergic reaction to latex. This type of allergic reaction cannot be called severe or life-threatening. The reaction that happens in this case is mostly due to the various chemicals accustomed to the proteins of latex instead of rubber. In the process of manufacturing, a variety of chemicals are used, and any of these, once exposed, can lead to dermatitis within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after exposure. If this skin infection is touched, it can cause exposure to other parts of the body. Nine out of ten people who have IgE mediated allergy will first develop cell mediated contact dermatitis.
People often use the term “latex allergy,” but not all reactions where you come into contact with rubber are caused by latex. An allergic reaction happens due to an abnormal response of the immune system when it comes in contact with any foreign substance known to be harmless. Individuals suffering from a latex allergy tend to have an overly sensitive immune system, hence, the moment there is any exposure to latex, the immune system reacts as if it were a harmful substance trying to disrupt the functioning of the body.
4 Making a Diagnosis
If one suspects the symptoms they are experiencing pertain to a latex allergy, it is advisable to visit the doctor at the earliest. To begin diagnosis, the doctor will first conduct a physical examination and question more about the symptoms. The doctor will also check for any kind of allergic reaction, such as watery eyes, rashes or hives on the skin, wheezing, itching, and irritation. The doctor will then ask details about your individual and family medical history. A blood test may be conducted, which would involve looking out for any latex additives present in a blood sample. The doctor would then conduct a comparison test with the medical history as well as the physical examination to confirm the diagnosis of the allergy. A skin test may also be conducted if there are severe cases of a latex allergy, however, this test would be checked by an allergy specialist only.
If one experiences symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis, the doctor will prescribe antihistamines or steroid medications, which should be enough to treat the symptoms. However, if the allergic reaction becomes severe, the doctor will suggest epinephrine intravenously, or IV fluids. One can learn how to inject epinephrine by themselves. This medicine is mostly given to treat any kind of allergic reaction or allergy symptoms, such as anaphylaxis. The medicine is quite safe and also comes with an easy to use device called an auto-injector. With the use of this device, one can inject a single dose of medicine when it is pressed against the outer thigh. Get proper guidelines from the doctor on how to use this medicine. In case of a severe allergic reaction, epinephrine can save your life, so always keep two shots of epinephrine auto-injectors on hand.
When one suffers from a latex allergy, prolonged contact with latex can worsen the condition. Once you are aware of this condition, you will need to be extra careful with the products you use on a daily basis. Check with your doctor on all items that need to be avoided. There are many items in our day-to-day lives that contain latex, a few of which include:
Rubber on sink stoppers and sink mats
Tub toys made out of rubber
Bath mats and floor rugs with rubber backing
Toothbrushes widely available today with grips and handles made of rubber material
Sanitary napkins also containing rubber
Utensils with rubber grips or that have some other part made of rubber
Water hoses made of rubber
Electrical cords containing rubber
Adult undergarments with rubber
Keyboards or calculators with keys or switches made of rubber
Waterproof bed pads made of rubber
Glue, paste, glue pens, and any other kinds of adhesives also containing rubber traces
Socks, undergarments, and any other form of clothing having an elastic band made from rubber
Dolls such as Barbie dolls or any other type also containing parts made of rubber
Cords of computer mice and keyboards
Cameras with certain parts made of rubber
TV remote controls or any other recording devices with keys or grips made of rubber
Bathing suit elastics made of rubber
Computer mouse pads or wrist pads made from rubber
Rubber items found outside the home include:
In most restaurants, as part of hygiene, workers wear rubber gloves while preparing and serving meals.
Car races, which usually give off rubber particles
One should also avoid the below food items, which can trigger an allergic reaction very similar to latex:
7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies
Alternative remedies like kinesiology, naturopathy and probiotics are used in controlling symptoms of latex allergy but lack scientific evidence on their efficacy.
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