Latex allergy encompasses various kinds of allergic reactions developed in response to latex. Latex is a natural substance and a product of rubber trees which can be found in various rubber products like rubber gloves, rubber bands, rubber toys, baby bottle nipples, condoms, balloons, etc.
Individuals suffering from latex allergy are basically allergic to the proteins existing in latex and their mucus membrane absorbs the latex proteins when exposed to the same. The individual’s immunological system treats the latex proteins as antigenic proteins and produce antibodies meant to react with these proteins thereby triggering an allergic reaction.
Latex Allergy – Causes
Commonly latex allergy develops due to prolonged exposure to substances having natural rubber latex and is most common amongst healthcare employees and individuals undertaking multiple surgeries.
Individuals allergic to latex and products made out of natural rubber develop symptoms that are encompassed under the medical term called latex allergy.
About 50% of individuals allergic to latex have past record of a different type of allergy. Some individuals susceptible to latex might even develop allergic response to certain vegetables and fruits like tomato, kiwi, banana, avocado, and chestnuts.
Allergic response to latex varies from minor to very serious and severity of allergic response to latex increases with continuous or frequent exposure to rubber products.
Types of Allergy caused by Natural Rubber Latex
Natural latex is likely to cause three types of allergic reactions namely Type I, Type IV and irritant contact dermatitis also.
Of the two, Type I is the most severe but rare form. Type I leads to hypersensitivity that can become a potential life-threatening, fatal kind of allergic response. This kind of reaction may account for significant proportions of perioperative anaphylactic response, especially in case of children suffering with myelomeningocele. Type I allergy is caused by IgE regulated reactions to proteins that are found in one type of rubber plant called Heyea brasiliensis. Type I allergic patients undergo blood tests to see if the individuals are producing IgE antibodies in response to latex proteins.
Type IV allergy is also called allergic contact dermatitis that involves delayed skin rashes coupled with blisters and oozing. Type IV allergy is detected by positive skin patch assessment; however, negative tests do not eliminate the chances of any latex allergy occurrence.
Irritant contact dermatitis- This is a mild form of latex allergy not involving the immune system. Symptoms are dry, itchy, irritated regions on the skin mostly on hands, mostly induced by continuous wearing of latex gloves.
Latex Allergy – Symptoms
Latex allergy can trigger various types of reactions as following:
Delayed-type Contact Dermatitis
In this type, symptoms appear 12 to 36 hours later, through subsequent exposure to latex products. Symptoms are not fatal and include occurrence of red, scaly and very itchy skin. This kind of reaction is caused by the chemicals present in rubber items.
Immediate Allergic reactions
This kind of reaction occurs in individuals having previous exposure to latex, and having developed sensitivity to allergens that trigger the immune system to react. For them, re-exposure to latex can lead to development of symptoms like sneezing, coughing/ wheezing, itchy throat and watery, itchy eyes.
The most serious allergic conditions involve appearance of symptoms within minutes and including multiple systems in the body. There are several records of this life-threatening, serious allergic condition each year and symptoms include red itchy rash having welts, swells in throat and other areas of body, wheezing, passing out, chest tightness, having difficulty to breathe, hoarse voice, trouble swallowing, retching, diarrhea, stomach cramps, face and body becoming pale or red in color.
Latex Allergy – Treatment and Management
If an individual develops any of the above mentioned symptoms or feels he or she may be allergic to latex, then they must consult an allergist or immunologist to be diagnosed.
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’, the best way to prevent allergy due to latex will be to evade substances laden with latex. For some time now, another source of natural rubber latex from guayule, a desert plant is being used as an alternative in many products as it is safer for people who are allergic to latex and for healthcare workers.
Synthetic products are also another option for people with allergic responses. Nitrile or vinyle gloves can be worn by health workers susceptible to natural latex.
Natural skin condoms can be used instead of rubber ones to avoid pregnancy but they don’t protect against HIV and other types of sexually-transmitted diseases.
People having mild skin reactions to latex can use anti-inflammatory medicines to treat symptoms.
Individuals having serious allergic reactions or anaphylactic response to latex must at all-time carry autoinjectible epinephrine with themselves everywhere they go. In case of an emergency or during the occurrence of a serious allergic condition, one must immediately resort to seek medical help.
Filed in: Skin Problems