Latex Allergy – Increase in Latex Allergies Explained

Sudden Increase in Latex Allergies Explained

What is Latex?

Latex is a natural substance derived from the milky sap of the rubber tree. Found in Africa, latex is used to make a variety of rubber products. An increasing number of Americans are becoming allergic to latex. Latex products are found in consumer products such as rubber gloves, balloons, tires, condoms and diaphragms, and elastic bands. Latex products found in the health care industry include rubber gloves, catheters, intravenous tubing, dressings, stethoscopes, syringes, and bandages: Many products that cannot be avoided for both the consumer and the health care worker.

Two Allergies Too Many

Latex allergies come from two sources, and have two different allergic reactions. They are seen in those individuals who wear latex gloves in their occupation, such as doctors and dental hygienists.

The first type of allergy affects the immune system, and results in a minor skin rash. It is blamed on the chemical additives used in making the gloves.

The second allergy is a full-fledged allergic reaction to the latex itself, and causes a more serious reaction. Those suffering from this type of allergy develop itchy, red hives, rhinitis/hay fever, a runny nose, and asthma. Latex allergies have also been blamed for causing anaphylaxis, a restriction of the air due to airway swelling, which, if nor treated promptly, can cause sudden death.

Why the Increase in Latex Allergies?

Latex has been useful in the medical industry for many years, protecting doctors from infectious diseases when touching a patient’s blood, urine, feces, or other organism that may pass-on an infection. Increased exposure to latex has perpetuated latex allergies to in those individuals predisposed of latex allergies. In today’s ultra-conscience world of diseases, more and more health care professionals are using latex gloves for simple procedures that never required gloves in the past, such as checking the pus in a patient’s hand.

With the increased use of latex gloves comes the increase of airborne latex particles being inhaled. Studies show that the cornstarch used to coat the latex for easier use in putting gloves and condoms on and off absorbs the proteins and shed them into the air. There are an increased number of people reporting a breakout of hives on their skin due to coming in contact with latex.

Testing for Latex Allergies

Skin and blood testing is common when looking for an allergy to latex. For skin tests, a small solution of latex components is injected into the skin. If swelling in that area occurs, that person is allergic to latex. The method of testing for latex allergies includes taking a blood sample to check for certain types of allergy-producing antibodies.

Know the Symptoms

An allergy to latex can pose a number of health-related problems, some even life-threatening. Nasal congestion, a runny nose, and asthma-like symptoms may appear, including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. Other symptoms include skin rashes, pus, and itchy skin. The most serious and fatal reaction to a latex allergy is anaphylactic shock; this occurs when your throat becomes swelled, making it difficult, and ultimately impossible to breathe. If you think you may be allergic to latex, check with your doctor immediately for ways of testing for and avoiding latex.

Abolishing Latex

Efforts are underway to manufacture latex gloves without the chemical additives that perpetuate the latex allergy. Educating the consumer and the health care worker about the risks and sources of latex allergies will also decrease the number of those allergic to latex. If you think you may be allergic to latex, your doctor can perform skin tests to pinpoint the exact source of your allergy; whether in the manufacturing of the latex product, or in the product itself.

By Allergy Buyers Club Medical Staff Writers ©2001