Latex allergies affect between 5% and 15% of healthcare workers, but less than 1% of the general population.*
What is a latex allergy?
There are two types of latex allergies: Type I (immediate-type) hypersensitivity and Type IV (delayed-type) hypersensitivity.
Type I (immediate-type) hypersensitivity to natural rubber latex is an IgE-mediated, immediate type hypersensitivity reaction to one or more proteins in natural rubber latex. It is mediated by mast cell histamine relase and it typically involves a systemic reaction.
Type IV (delayed-type) hypersensitivity is a T cell-mediated (another type of white blood cell), delayed response, and typically occurs 48 to 96 hours after exposure. This is frequently a reaction to the processing chemicals used in manufacturing natural rubber latex. This reaction is generally localized to the area of contact. This reaction is also referred to as allergic contact dermatitis, T-cell-mediated allergy, or chemical allergy.
A third condition called irritant contact dermatitis is a non-allergic reaction. Symptoms typically are dry, irritated, and/or fissured lesions.
What is natural rubber latex?
Although thousands of commercial products contain latex proteins, most are not allergenic because of the extensive heating and curing that occurs in their production. Only soft or dipped latex materials are capable of sensitizing or causing allergy in humans.
- Rubber gloves
- Rubber bands
- Pacifiers/ Baby Bottle Nipples
- Gutta Perch/ Gutta Balota ( used to seal root canals)
- Dental dams
If you are allergic to latex, it is a good idea to learn which products contain it. That way, you can reduce your exposure. The most common reactions are to gloves and condoms. Fortunately, latex-free alternatives exist for both.
What are the symptoms of a latex allergy?
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can include:
- Swelling of affected area
- Runny nose
- Reddened, itchy or teary eyes
- Sore throat, hoarse voice
- Abdominal cramps
- Chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath
If exposure to latex continues, allergy symptoms may include a severe and life threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
How is a latex allergy diagnosed?
Latex allergy can be diagnosed by an RAST blood test or a dermal challenge.
Who is at risk for latex allergy?
Although less than 1% of the general population develop latex allergies, 5-15% of health care workers due to frequent latex exposure and up to 60% of children with spina bifida (related to frequent surgeries – anyone who has multiple surgeries is at risk).*
Recently, coincident IgE-mediated allergies to latex and multiple fruits or vegetables have been documented. Investigations have produced complex patterns of allergenic cross-reactivity (suggesting shared or common antigenic components) among botanically-unrelated allergens such as latex and foods. While the details of the clinical association of latex and food allergies await further study, documentation of food allergies known to coexist with latex sensitivities may be useful for identifying the risks of latex exposure for some patients.
Listed below are the allergens reported to be associated (clinically or immunochemically) with natural rubber latex.
High Risk-Banana, Avocado, Chestnut, Kiwi
Moderate Risk-Apple, Carrot, Celery, Papaya, Potato, Tomato, Melons
How is a latex allergy treated?
Treatment is determined on an individual basis as prescribed by your physician. Please contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our allergy and asthma specialists.
Is there a cure for latex allergies?
Latex allergy is quite manageable as major allergic reactions are usually restricted to mucosal exposures. At present there is no cure for latex allergy which can tend to diminish over time with proper avoidance.
What are the possible complications of latex allergies?
The most serious allergic reaction to latex is anaphylaxis. It’s rarely the first reaction to latex exposure. Anaphylactic reactions develop immediately after latex exposure in highly sensitive people.
How can you prevent latex allergies?
The best way to prevent developing a latex allergy is to reduce your exposure to it.
*Poley GE and Slater JE. Latex allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2000; 105:1054-1062.