Latex allergy is a medical term that encompasses a range of allergic reactions to the proteins that are present in natural rubber latex. Latex allergies are most common among people who are regularly exposed to latex products such as rubber gloves.
The majority of individuals with latex allergies are comprised of healthcare workers and those who have had a lot of surgeries. When latex-containing medical devices or supplies come into contact with the mucous membranes, the membranes may absorb latex proteins. The immune system of some people produces antibodies that react immunologically with the antigenic proteins. Certain fruits and vegetables such as bananas, chestnuts, kiwi, tomato, and avocado can all cause allergic reactions in individuals who are latex-sensitive. About 50% of individuals with latex allergy have a history of another type of allergy.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include red skin, itchy skin, sneezing or runny nose, coughing or wheezing, itchy throat; itchy, watery eyes, and scaly skin. It’s important to note that every year hundreds of people experience anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening allergic reaction caused by an allergy to latex. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include passing out, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping, and pale or red color to the body and face.
There are two common causes of latex allergies; the first is the natural rubber tree sap used for consumer products. Latex proteins present in the sap trigger the allergy. The second common cause and least recognized are foods. Avocados, bananas, tomato, strawberries, kiwi and chestnuts all contain a similar latex protein to that which is found in the rubber tree.
When you come in contact, ingest or inhale the latex protein your immune system senses it as a harmful substance and releases antibodies to fight the allergen. The range of allergic reactions to the protein varies””depending on the individual””from mild to severe or life threatening.
For many, the allergy develops over time with multiple exposures to latex, while others have an immediate reaction. Using rubber gloves, condoms, working in a latex environment where airborne carriers of the allergenic protein are present and specific foods all set off the latex allergy reactions.
The only way to avoid an allergic reaction to latex is to avoid the substance all together. Substitutes for latex gloves like vinyl or nitrile gloves should always be used by individuals with latex allergy and those who work in the healthcare industry.
The best prevention for a latex allergy is to avoid contact with any product or food containing natural rubber latex. If you have a latex allergy, keep your doctor, dentist or healthcare provider updated before administering tests or treatments.
Talk with your doctor, if you have a severe reaction, medical bracelets help to alert responders in the event of an emergency. If you work in a latex environment, there are safety rules and protective gear to prevent allergy reactions. Pay attention to the surfaces of equipment or devices; latex contaminated powder dust can trigger allergenic reactions.
Your doctor can recommend alternative products or foods to avoid. Make time to learn about your allergy, the triggers and preventions to protect your health. The more you understand about the latex protein and how your body reacts will lessen the episodes and health vulnerabilities.