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Diseases & Conditions

Latex Allergy

Latex also known as natural rubber, is derived from the sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. This tree is found in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Latex allergy develops after some contact with latex. Rubber gloves are the main source of sensitization and allergic reactions. A certain part of the latex substance itself is an allergen for many people. The powder in latex gloves is an airborne allergen that can also cause airway symptoms in some people with latex allergy.

What causes latex allergy?

The exact cause of latex allergy is unknown, but it is thought that repeated exposure to latex and rubber products may induce sensitization and symptoms.

Who is affected by latex allergy?

People at increased risk for developing latex allergy include:

  • Children with spina bifida
  • Children with certain congenital urologic abnormalities
  • Persons who use latex gloves at work, such as workers in healthcare, dentistry, animal laboratories, and veterinary medicine
  • Workers in the rubber industry
  • People with a history of multiple surgical procedures
  • People with known food allergies to banana, avocado, kiwi or chestnuts
  • People with atopy (family history of allergies), asthma, or eczema

An estimated 5 to 10 percent of healthcare workers have some form of allergy to latex.

What are the symptoms of latex allergy?

If you have a latex allergic reaction, you may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Eye tearing and irritation
  • Nasal symptoms such as sneezing, drainage, or congestion
  • Wheezing or chest constriction
  • Itching

Patients with latex allergy typically develop symptoms in response to wearing latex gloves and get a skin rash in the areas covered by the gloves.

There are three types of "glove dermatitis" that may occur:
  1. Irritant dermatitis: This is the least threatening type of glove reaction, and reflects as a non-allergenic skin reaction. It results in dryness, itching, burning, and scaly lesions of the skin.
  2. Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction to additives used to process latex. The reaction can be severe, less localized (spreads to more parts of the body), and last longer.
  3. Immediate hypersensitivity reaction (latex allergy): This is potentially the most serious reaction to latex. It can appear as nasal/eye ( rhinitis with hay fever-like ) symptoms, hives, severe itching, wheezing, or chest constriction. Rarely, symptoms may progress to be life-threatening.

What should I do when a latex-allergy reaction occurs?

True allergic reactions to latex rarely progress to be life-threatening. However, when this happens, the reaction can include low blood pressure, difficulty breathing or loss of consciousness. If left untreated, a serious allergic reaction could potentially result in death.

For this reason, some patients who are allergic to latex and have exhibited the tendency to experience serious reactions may be given a prescription for self-injectable epinephrine (adrenaline). If you experience severe symptoms, call your doctor or 911 immediately, or go to the nearest emergency room.

How is latex allergy diagnosed?

A latex allergy is diagnosed in patients who have experienced signs or symptoms of allergic reaction (skin rash, hives, eye tearing or irritation, wheezing, itching, difficulty breathing) when exposed to latex or natural rubber products and have evidence of specific IgE ("allergy antibody") to latex demonstrated by skin or in vitro (blood) testing.

How is latex allergy treated?

The major aspect of management is avoidance. If you have latex allergy, you may wish to obtain a Medic Alert® bracelet indicated “allergic to latex” and carry self-injectable epinephrine with you.

There is no cure for latex allergy, so the best treatment for this condition is prevention and avoidance  measures.

For lists of latex alternatives and latex-free products, visit the American Latex Allergy Association website. Another resource is the CDC Latex Allergy Hotline 1.800.356.4674 or www.cdc.gov. To be sure about a product's contents, call the manufacturer.

What if I have to go to the doctor?

If you have a documented latex allergy and must visit the doctor or dentist, tell the doctor about your latex allergy at least 24 hours before your scheduled appointment. The hospital or doctor's office should have a latex-free protocol for patients with latex allergy. If you have to stay in the hospital, you may be given your own "latex safe" area.

Cross-reaction with foods

The following foods can cross-react and may cause symptoms in patients with latex allergy:

  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Celery
  • Cherry
  • Chestnut
  • Fig
  • Grape
  • Hazelnut
  • Kiwi
  • Melon
  • Nectarine
  • Potato
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Rye
  • Strawberry
  • Tomato
  • Wheat

Please note: Not all people with latex allergy will have adverse reactions to these foods. If you have symptoms in association with latex contact or exposure, and have not had the diagnosis of latex allergy established, or if you have had adverse reactions to any of above food items, you may wish to pursue further evaluation with a board-certified Allergy/Immunology specialist.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/28/2012…#8623

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