Everything you need to know about a possible latex allergy and how to avoid or treat it. A latex allergy can be very serious, with severe symptoms, and in some cases, the reaction is so severe that it can be fatal. That is why it is important to know if you have a latex allergy and what to do to avoid contact with it. The causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of latex allergy are important information that can reduce discomfort or even save a life.
Learning about latex, the resources of latex, and how it causes an allergic reaction is the first step in avoiding a significant reduction in quality of life based on allergies. While direct contact with latex products appears to be the main source, it can be surprising to learn about the various products and even foods that can cause a reaction to latex.
Causes and sources of latex allergy
Latex is a product of the rubber tree, made from sap. This is actually called natural rubber latex. The allergy that causes a reaction and symptoms is to a particular protein contained in latex, causing the body to respond as if a foreign object or something harmful is threatening to attack. With this, the body goes into defensive mode and releases antibodies, which produce histamine. Histamine increases the production of fluids, including mucus, and causes inflammation and irritation.
In the average person, none of this happens. The allergic reaction is a lack of communication in the body, causing the symptoms. While some sources of latex are expected and latex-free alternatives exist, making it easier to avoid latex, other latex contacts can come as a surprise. Some of the more common places latex is found include:
- Medical and dental supplies, such as:
- Disposable gloves.
- Tubing used in airways and intravenous, as well as in catheters.
- The bandages would be put on.
- Products purchased by the consumer, such as:
- Bags and purses or wallets.
- Toys, bottles and pacifiers.
- Tires and tools.
- Athletic shoes.
- Food (with the same protein contained in latex).
- The apples.
- Carrots and celery.
- Raw potatoes.
- Melons and kiwi.
In most cases, a latex allergy requires direct contact with natural rubber latex to cause a noticeable problem, although with food, it could be skin contact or ingestion. However, in some cases, inhaling latex particles can cause a reaction, as with some latex gloves, producing a certain amount of latex in the air.
Symptoms of a latex allergy
Symptoms experienced with a latex allergy range from mild to life threatening. There are three types of latex allergies. The most common is irritant contact dermatitis. Typical symptoms are minor and include:
- Dry and itchy skin
- Burning and other skin irritations.
- Scaling injuries, especially to the hands.
Allergic contact dermatitis is the second type of latex allergy and is caused by some of the additives and chemicals used in processing latex into other products. Some of the symptoms are similar to irritant contact dermatitis, but could be more serious:
- Scales and burns of the skin.
- Clear and obvious rashes and hives.
- Blisters and exudate from the skin.
The third type of latex allergy, and potentially the most dangerous, is latex hypersensitivity. This is a rare condition and causes a serious and immediate reaction, sometimes including potential death. Think of it as a bee sting and the potential for allergies and reactions. The mildest symptoms of this condition are:
- Rhinitis (inflammation and irritation of the nose and nasal passages), with running, sneezing and congestion.
- Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the whites of the eyes), or at least watery or irritated eyes.
- Severe itching and irritation or even cramps.
- Stomach or gastrointestinal problems
Progressive symptoms can be more severe, including:
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate).
- Uncontrolled shaking or muscle spasms.
- Pain and tightness in the chest, with shortness of breath.
- Difficulty breathing (in severe cases, anaphylaxis) or wheezing.
- Low blood pressure, characterized by dizziness and feeling faint.
These reactions do not require contact with latex in severe cases, which means that airborne particles can cause these severe symptoms.
Treatment and prevention of latex allergies
Knowing the highest risk factors for having or developing a latex allergy can help control and prevent an allergic reaction. Those most at risk often have professions with high latex exposure, but not all. People most at risk are:
- Those who have multiple surgeries, usually ten or more (think children with spina bifida or another birth defect).
- People with other regular allergies, such as hay fever and food allergies.
- Doctors, nurses, caregivers, and others in the healthcare industry are often exposed to latex gloves, bandages, and other equipment.
- Those with high exposure to natural rubber latex, such as factory workers in the rubber industry.
Avoiding latex is the best treatment for an allergy to the material. For example, switching to nitrile and other types of synthetic gloves in healthcare and production can lead to a much more comfortable and healthy existence. Unfortunately, there is no preventive measure that allows for ‘conditioning’, which means that allergy shots (which expose patients to miniscule amounts of the allergen at the core of the reaction until they are desensitized) is not an option. .
Depending on the severity of the reaction, there are three basic treatments for latex allergy.
Antihistamines- Histamine is the substance produced in an allergic reaction that causes most of the symptoms of that reaction. Antihistamines are used to stop the body from producing histamine so that symptoms dissipate over the course of a few minutes to a few hours. They may need to be taken regularly with prolonged exposure, or they may only be needed in cases of unusual contact with latex, such as ingesting a meal with a related food not mentioned in the ingredients.
Steroids- Inhaled corticosteroids (nasal sprays) have been shown to be extremely effective in treating all types of allergic reactions, including latex allergies. These steroids significantly reduce inflammation, the biggest reaction and the most bothersome symptom of an allergy, including latex. As the swelling subsides, so do other irritations, such as rashes and pain. Corticosteroids can also be prescribed by a doctor in oral form.
Adrenaline- When the latex allergy is so severe that it causes the patient to stop breathing or the heart to stop beating (known as anaphylaxis), adrenaline in the form of epinephrine can be given in an emergency. Many people with life-threatening allergies were a medical alert bracelet so that others will know, and they carry an emergency epinephrine syringe for such cases.