Latex can be found in all sorts of supplies that we use on a daily basis, and many of us will not think twice about continuing our normal routines. However, for those who are allergic to latex, something as simple as putting on a pair of gloves could trigger a painful and potentially dangerous allergic reaction.
What Is Latex?
Latex is the milky sap that you see harvested directly from rubber trees. The sap that is collected is mixed with other chemicals during a manufacturing process that increases its elasticity and quality.
Latex is frequently used to make rubber gloves, balloons, rubber bands, condoms, erasers, and some toys. People who are frequently exposed to latex may develop an allergy over time to the natural rubber latex proteins present in the items they use often.
Synthetic rubber does not cause an allergic reaction in the same way latex exposure does, and will not cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to latex. Latex house paints, for example, are not made with natural latex rubber and are generally considered safe.
Latex is commonly found in both medical and dental supplies but is also present in consumer products such as handbags, shoes, tires, elastic, pacifiers, and tools.
What Causes an Allergy to Latex?
There are individuals that have latex allergies that are not caused by exposure to items containing latex, however, it is much more common with continued exposure over time. Many people who use latex gloves frequently will develop a latex allergy at some point, and many organizations have switched to gloves made with things other than latex as a result.
You may be at a higher risk of developing an allergy to latex due to your job, a health condition, or allergies, and frequent exposure can increase your risk. Health care workers and those who wear latex gloves often may develop latex allergies and many hospitals have switched to nitrile gloves.
Individuals that work in the rubber industry, or are otherwise exposed to the natural latex rubber at any point in its manufacturing, may also be at a higher risk for developing an allergy and may want to consult with a healthcare professional regarding their exposure.
People who have had more than 10 surgeries are also at a greater risk for developing a latex allergy, as are those who have other allergies. Hay Fever and other food allergies may make an individual more likely to develop a latex allergy.
What are the Symptoms of a Latex Allergy?
The most common symptoms of a latex allergy are hives, a congested or a runny nose, itching, and rash. The symptoms can resemble asthma and also include wheezing, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of tightness in the chest area.
Symptoms of a latex allergy can begin within minutes or may take longer. In the most severe cases, latex allergies can cause anaphylaxis which can, in turn, cause severe breathing difficulties. During severe reactions, individuals may be instructed to use their EpiPen to administer epinephrine which can help improve their breathing.
Contact Dermatitis caused by a latex allergy may be from chemicals that are used to process and manufacture latex gloves or other items. Contact Dermatitis results in a kind of eczema and small blisters often form on the hands.
A latex allergy rash, or Contact Dermatitis, will resemble a poison ivy rash and may appear 1-3 days after wearing latex gloves. Direct contact with gloves is not necessary to cause an allergic reaction. Several cases of anaphylaxis, or other severe asthma-like reactions, have been triggered by an individual inhaling latex protein from the powder found on the latex gloves.
What Do I Need to Know If I’m Allergic to Latex?
If you have a latex allergy you may also have food allergies. The foods most commonly associated with a latex allergy are apples, bananas, celery, chestnut, carrot, avocado, and raw potatoes. Tomatoes, kiwi, papaya, and melons are also possible food allergies, and the only way to know for sure is to have an allergen test performed.
Latex allergies will get worse if you are exposed to latex, latex-containing aerosols, or dust that contains latex protein. If you have an allergy you should avoid all areas where you may have direct skin exposure, or inhale latex containing particles.
Also avoid areas where latex gloves and other latex-containing products are stored, and consider wearing a mask and consulting your healthcare professional if you have concerns about your exposure.
Synthetic rubbers do not cause the same allergic reactions that latex does and can be a valuable alternative in many cases. When possible, get latex free products, and ask that others in your area avoid latex as well.
What Are Some Things That I Should Avoid If I Have a Latex Allergy?
If you frequently wear latex gloves you should stop wearing the latex gloves and switch to gloves made with synthetic materials. These kinds of gloves are widely available to consumers and are often used in medical institutions.
It’s also a good idea to go through your home and remove any items that may increase your exposure to latex. Dishwashing gloves are frequently overlooked as a cause of latex exposure, as are baby bottle nipples and hot water bottles.
Motorcycle and bicycle handlebar grips are also sometimes made from latex, as are some types of carpeting, racket handles, and erasers. For many of these items, a call to the company that sells them may help clear up any concerns you have regarding their latex content.
Many medical supplies can contain latex, including stethoscopes, intravenous tubing, surgical masks, respirators, and electrode pads. Medical staff are well trained in how to avoid latex exposure with an allergic patient, but never be afraid to ask questions when receiving care.
Does Having a Latex Allergy Affect My Medical Care?
When you visit a healthcare professional for treatment, they will undoubtedly ask you if you have any allergies. Latex allergies have become somewhat more common and many medical institutions will have on hand various latex-free products for patient care.
Having an allergy to latex should not radically alter routine medical procedures or dental work, however, your healthcare provider will be able to best advise what changes should be made in order to prevent any allergic reactions.
People with latex allergies frequently decide to wear medical alert jewelry or pins to identify themselves as having an allergy. By wearing an item, such as a bracelet, that alerts medical professionals to your latex allergy, they can effectively treat you even if you are unconscious.
Individuals that have severe allergic reactions to latex may carry an epinephrine auto-injector, commonly called an EpiPen, which can provide critical emergency treatment.
How Is a Latex Allergy Diagnosed?
Diagnosing a latex allergy can be tough, as reactions will vary from person to person and their exposure level. If you have a family history of asthma, hay fever, or other allergies, it is more likely that you could develop a latex allergy, however, there are other factors as well.
A simple skin test can help determine if you have a latex allergy. For this test, your doctor will place a very small amount of latex just under your skin and if a reaction occurs, you likely have an allergy. There are also blood tests available that can check for a sensitivity to the latex protein.
Be prepared to share with your doctor about previous reactions you’ve had, and other symptoms you’ve experienced. They will likely examine your skin, and sort through your previous symptoms as part of your diagnosis.
How Is a Latex Allergy Treated?
The most effective way to treat a latex allergy is to remove all of the ways that you are being exposed to latex in order minimize any allergic response. For many, this will be a process unless you are already certain of the causes and how you are being exposed.
By avoiding all products that contain latex, you can limit potential reactions, however, even your best efforts may fall short. For these unexpected moments, it may be best to carry an EpiPen, or another epinephrine injectable, with you for when your reactions are severe.
If your reactions are not very severe doctors generally advise using antihistamines, or even corticosteroids, which can be taken after you are exposed to latex in order to control your allergic reaction, and reduce symptoms that may be causing discomfort.
If You Suspect You Have a Latex Allergy…
If you think you have a latex allergy there are a few things that you can do to get started. The very first thing is to make an appointment with an appropriate healthcare provider to discuss your potential allergy. Once you have an appointment in place, here’s some information you can start collecting in order to prepare.
- Keep track of your symptoms
- Make a note of any exposure you’ve had to latex
- Write down relevant details about your life such as stressors or life changes
- Write out a list of all of your medications you currently take
- Make a list of questions to ask your doctor
You may also want to consider bringing a friend or family member to your appointment. Not only can they help you stay calm and pass the time, but they may remember things from the appointment that you may not have made a note of.