Latex Allergies - Definition, Types, Symptoms & Treatment Explained
If you have a latex allergy, your immune system might overreact to specific proteins found in rubber latex. These are used to produce rubber gloves and other medical devices. While medical researchers are unsure of its causes, the reactions can be severe if left untreated.
Let’s find out more about it by reading till the end of this article!
What Is Latex Allergy?
Natural rubber latex is made from rubber tree sap (Hevea brasiliensis). When you develop a latex allergy, your body might mistake a latex product as a harmful substance and overreacts against it. A rubber latex can produce various substances, including examination gloves, balloons and condoms. People suffering from this allergy might face reactions when they inhale the smell of the latex products or physically touch these.
Who Is at Risk of Latex Allergy ?
Now that you know what latex allergy is, you must be wondering if it is a common condition. Mostly, healthcare workers are at risk of developing this condition. About 5%-10% of healthcare workers suffer from this allergy. On the other hand, people suffering from a defect in their bone marrow cells can also develop this condition. Apart from that, if you have other allergies, eczema or asthma, your chances are higher than others.
What Are the Types of Latex Allergies?
The following types of latex allergies are commonly seen in patients.
- Irritant contact dermatitis: You might get this type of allergy because of repeated exposure to chemicals in latex gloves. It is not a severe condition and generally starts after 12-24 hours of contact.
- Allergic contact dermatitis: When your immune system reacts to the additives used in latex processing, you suffer from this condition. The reactions are severe and spread to different body parts faster. Symptoms start about 1-4 days after you come in contact with a latex product and last longer than contact dermatitis.
- Immediate allergic reaction (latex hypersensitivity): It starts showing hay fever symptoms, similar to a nasal allergy. It is usually rare, but the symptoms can be severe health concerns, sometimes life-threatening.
What Are the Symptoms of Latex Allergies?
Some of the common symptoms of latex allergy are discussed below.
- Rhinitis (irritation inside the nose)
- Severe itching and irritation on the skin
- Cramps and muscle pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
While these are the immediate signs of latex allergy, in some cases, these can progress to some severe conditions, as discussed below.
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Low blood pressure
What Are the Causes of Latex Allergies?
There are still uncertainties about the exact causes behind developing a latex allergy. The immune systems of allergic people identify latex as a pathogen. It then triggers your cells to produce antibodies for fighting against the latex components. Thus, every time you contact latex products, your body starts overreacting, causing allergic reactions.
Apart from that, previous conditions of asthma, allergy and eczema are likely to cause these allergies. Moreover, people having a deformed bladder or urinary tract from birth can also develop these allergies in future. Furthermore, this allergy can develop from a urinary catheter with a rubber tip.
How to Diagnose Latex Allergies?
Now that you know the meaning of latex allergy, you must be curious to learn how to diagnose it. Once you observe the symptoms of this allergy, you should visit the physician and get it diagnosed. In the beginning, doctors might ask questions to learn more about your medical history. You need to inform the doctor if you have past allergies or reactions to certain substances.
A standard diagnosis process includes the skin prick test. A healthcare professional will use a needle to prick the skin on your forearms and put a small amount of latex in it. If you are allergic to latex, your skin will start itching, and you might develop wheals looking like hives.
What Are the Treatments for Latex Allergies?
Medical researchers have yet to develop a specific cure for latex allergy. However, the best treatment for latex allergy is to avoid contact with latex products for the patients. Apart from that, you can do the following for treating this condition.
- Wear a medical alert identification band.
- Carry an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector with you for emergencies.
- Inform the people in your surroundings about your allergy.
- Avoid latex products and places where latex products might be present.
- Ask your healthcare professionals to avoid wearing latex gloves.
How to Prevent Latex Allergies?
There is hardly any way of preventing a latex allergy. All you can do is avoid direct contact with latex products and make your surroundings more aware of your condition. For instance, every time you go for appointments with your dentist or other medical practices, you should request them to avoid latex gloves. Moreover, you can also ask restaurant waiters to avoid such gloves while serving your food. The following daily items contain latex, so you should avoid these as well.
- Balloons and rubber dolls
- Raincoats, rain boots, sneaker soles
- Rubber bands and adhesives
- Sanitary napkins and condoms
- Pacifiers and nipples for baby bottles