Latex is known as a major component in the vast majority of rubber products, and it is made of the Hevea brasiliensis tree. Latex can be found in thousands of occupational and household products, starting with shoes and up to rubber bands. This material is ultimately common in the healthcare industry, since it is contained in surgical gloves and diverse pieces of medical equipment.
Considering latex allergy, there are certain confusions and misconceptions. In fact, there are two types of allergic reactions, which need to be differentiated. First of all, latex is not similar to other synthetic rubber materials, such as petroleum-based or butyl products. Paints and other products, which are labeled as ‘latex-based’, contain a specific synthetic product which is approved to be safe for patients with latex allergy.
According to the results of multiple studies, the tendency to develop allergic reactions is inherited. Similar to other allergies, the more frequent and intense exposure to latex, the higher risk of allergy development. 5-10% of healthcare workers experience latex allergy as a result of constant exposure to latex-containing items. Limited use of latex gloves decreases the possibility of latex allergy even in healthcare specialists.
Another group of people, who have an advanced risk of latex allergy, include those, who have a history of several surgeries, peculiarly the ones involving the genitourinary tract and nervous system. Children with symptoms of spinal bifida seem to have higher chances of latex allergy occurrence.
Symptoms of Condition Development
Generally, there are two major types of latex allergies, including immediate and delayed.
An immediate allergic reaction to latex is a potentially severe condition that appears within several minutes of exposure and can trigger itching, hives, wheezing, breathing problems, throat tightness, anaphylaxis and sometimes even fatal signs. An overwhelming majority of patients experience such reactions only after contact with latex items, while others can get the signs of allergy even after using a drug that was stored in a bottle with a latex stopper.
A delayed reaction to latex presupposes mildly swollen rashes, itching, redness and other symptoms that occur at the site of contact with latex-containing products. The symptoms usually appear 12-24 hours after exposure and are quite safe. The reaction resembles the one to poison oak, because of other chemicals used to produce latex.
Getting Diagnosed with Allergy
Patients, who have the symptoms of delayed latex allergy, do not usually have an allergic antibody, though the condition can be diagnosed with a patch test. The process involves placing other ingredients of latex on the skin for over 48 hours and interpreting the outcomes after 48-96 hours. The test should be performed only by the physician with experience in diagnosing allergies.
Nevertheless, an immediate latex allergy is caused by the IgE against latex and can be diagnosed with the RAST or skin testing. The latter can be quite complicated, as there is no commercial latex extract for skin testing in the USA. Some allergists produce their own extracts, while others rely on the RAST for diagnosing the condition.
Relation to Oral Allergy Syndrome
A considerable part of patients with signs of immediate latex allergy have accompanying symptoms of oral allergy syndrome. The condition triggers swelling of the mouth and itching after eating specific foods, most commonly avocado, bananas, chestnuts, kiwi and melons. The reason is in the presence of food proteins, which are similar to the ones, contained in latex.
While the majority of oral allergy symptoms are rather mild and last just several minutes, some patients can experience worse reactions if these products are consumed. It is preferable for people with latex allergy to avoid any products, which can trigger oral allergy syndrome.
How to Prevent and Treat the Disorder
An ultimate way to prevent an allergic reaction to latex is to avoid its exposure. However, since latex is exceptionally common, it is difficult to fully avoid its use. Tell your doctor and dentist about the existing condition, so that they could use latex-free medical supplies and non-latex gloves. Household latex, which is known to trigger allergic reactions, can be found in dishwashing gloves, latex balloons and condoms. Read the label of the product before its purchase or use to eliminate the risk of condition development.
Patients with latex allergy should thoroughly coordinate the procedure with surgeons, anesthesiologists and other medical workers during the surgery. Such people usually have the first surgery of the day to make sure the operating room is carefully cleaned and there are no latex remnants from previous surgeries.
Immunotherapy, allergy shots and similar measures can be used to prevent latex allergy. However, results of therapies are rather vague and unsure.
Treating Latex Allergy
The process of immediate latex reaction treatment is similar to the treatment of anaphylaxis. It can include the use of corticosteroids, antihistamines and epinephrine. The treatment of delayed form of the reaction usually requires only corticosteroids, creams or syrup, depending on the severity of the condition.
Patients with latex allergy should carry injectable epinephrine with them to block unwanted reactions. Additionally, such people should consider wearing a special medical bracelet with all the allergy information in case of emergency. It is inevitable for medical personnel to be aware of possible reactions to latex-containing materials and avoid its use.