What Should You Know About Latex Allergy?
Latex is a natural substance found in many products including rubber gloves, condoms, and medical devices. In some people, products containing latex may trigger an allergic reaction. Although it is still not clear what latex allergy is caused by, some doctors believe that frequent contacts with latex and rubber may contribute to the development of the allergy.
Who Is at Risk?
Healthcare workers spend a lot of time working with latex products, which makes them more prone to having a reaction. In fact, estimated 5-10% of healthcare workers are allergic to latex to some extent.
In addition, latex is more likely to trigger a reaction in people with allergies (especially, food allergies to bananas, avocados, kiwis and chestnuts), asthma, or eczema; in those who had two or more operations; in people with some defect in their bone marrow cells or a deformed bladder or urinary tract; and in those who have a urinary catheter with a rubber tip.
People working in rubber industry and those who use condoms regularly are greatly exposed to latex, which is why they also may develop the latex allergy.
They are several ways to be exposed to latex: through inhalation, through the skin, through mucus membranes (like the eyes, mouth, vagina or rectum), and through the blood. Thus, if you use rubber gloves, you may inhale a powder contained in the gloves. Besides, if you wear latex gloves, your skin gets exposed to it, as well. Latex can also get into your blood through medical devices that contain rubber.
3 Types of Reactions to Latex
Your body may react to latex in different ways. For instance, you may get an irritant contact dermatitis, which occurs when you repeatedly expose yourself to latex products. The symptoms include skin problems, dryness, scaling, itching, and burning. It is not an allergic reaction and the symptoms are not life-threatening.
Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed reaction to various additives contained in latex products. It causes symptoms similar to those of irritant contact dermatitis, but they are more severe, appear later (up to 4 days after a contact with latex) and last longer. Besides, more parts of you body can be affected by the allergy.
Some people may have latex hypersensitivity – immediate allergic reaction – which is one of the most serious ones. You may first feel hay fever symptoms, experience conjunctivitis, cramps, hives or severe itchiness. In more severe cases, the symptoms can include trouble breathing, tachycardia, tremors, chest pain, low blood pressure, and even anaphylaxis, which can lead to life-threatening consequences. If you or your loved ones are having severe symptoms, you should seek for medical help immediately.
How Is Latex Allergy Diagnosed?
If you have allergic symptoms after a contact with latex, such as itching, hives, skin rash, eye irritation, wheezing, and difficulty breathing, your doctor may diagnose you a latex allergy. You may also get this diagnosis without experiencing the symptoms, if blood or skin tests show that you are allergic to it.
When conducting a skin test for a latex allergy, make sure that the process is supervised by your doctor. This is to secure you, if you have a serious reaction.
How Do You Treat Latex Allergy?
If you have irritant contact dermatitis, you can treat the symptoms with medications containing antihistamine or corticosteroid. More severe reactions require emergency medical attention, which may involve an epinephrine injection or IV fluids.
People with a latex allergy are also recommended to wear a MedicAlert bracelet or some other type of allergy ID and carry at least two shots of epinephrine, in case of an emergency.
How to Allergy-Proof Your Home?
If you are allergic to latex, your symptoms may get worse, if you continue getting in contact with latex. Therefore, you may need to avoid products containing latex.
Latex is an ingredient of many items, so avoiding it at all may be quite challenging. You can ask the product manufacturers about the content of the good you are interested in.
For example, latex is commonly used in products like toothbrushes with rubber handles or rubber grips, condoms, diapers containing rubber, some sanitary napkins, rubber toys, older Barbie dolls and other rubber-containing dolls, diaphragms, undergarments and other clothing that contain rubber, bathing caps and bathing suits, bath mats or floor rugs with rubber backing, waterproof bed pads, rubber sink stoppers or sink mats, rubber electrical cords, rubber utensils, various adhesives like glue, glue pens and other art supplies, pens with rubber coating, calculators and keyboards made od rubber, rubber stamps, mouse or remote controllers containing rubber, cameras, telescopes, as well as binocular pieces.
You can also be exposed to latex outside your home, through checkout belts in grocery stores, ATM machine buttons that are made of rubber, balloons, restaurants where latex gloves are used in cooking, or car races largely spreading tire and rubber particles.
A lot of medical products, such as EKG pads, blood pressure pads, adhesive bandages, tourniquets and dental devices, also contain latex.
Are There Alternatives to Latex?
There are special alternative products for people allergic to latex. Thus, instead of rubber gloves, you can use synthetic or cotton gloves. Latex condoms can be replaced by sheep cecum condoms (which are only used for birth control), rubber-containing toys can be replaced by plastic or cloth toys, while balloons can be replaced by mylar balloons. Instead of shoes with rubber, choose those made of leather or synthetics. Nylon or synthetic waterproof coats can be used as an alternative to latex raincoats. Instead of elastic bands, you can use paper clips, twine or string. Rubber bottle nipples can be replaced by silicone ones.
How Can You Secure Your Visit to the Doctor or Dentist?
If you have an appointment with your doctor or dentist, you should inform them about your allergy to latex, at least one day before the visit. Thus, the hospital and the doctor can prepare everything, so that you can get your treatment without being exposed to latex.
People staying in the hospital normally have their own room, that is free of products that may contain latex.
How Is Latex Allergy Related to Food Allergy?
Some people with latex allergies can developing the reaction after eating certain foods. Therefore, they are recommended to avoid such foods as: grape, fig, hazelnut, chestnut, avocado, celery, cherry, banana, nectarine, peach, melon, kiwi, pineapple, papaya, plum, tomato, potato, wheat, and rye.