Latex allergies can lead to serious complications during medical and dental procedures.
Signs of a Latex Allergy
Latex is a natural rubber that comes from rubber tree sap. Rubber gloves, condoms, and medical devices are all potential allergens, and the allergic reactions are thought to come from repeated exposure. In fact, “5% to 10% of health care workers have some form of allergy to latex”. Other people who are at risk of being allergic to latex are people with a history of many surgeries, condom users, rubber industry workers, those who use catheters, and people with eczema, asthma, or other allergies. Contact with latex can be via skin, mucous membranes, the blood, or even via inhalation of the powder from rubber gloves. Reaction to latex can be contact or irritant dermatitis (burning, itching, scaling, lesions, etc.) or something as severe as an immediate allergic reaction. The symptoms of the latter, latex hypersensitivity, include pink eye, hives, itching, trouble breathing, anaphylactic shock, chest pain, or even death.1 The proteins in the latex trigger the reactions. Other sources of latex include shoe soles, baby bottle nipples, elastic bands, and balloons. Those with latex allergies may also have “latex fruit syndrome”. This can produce allergic reactions from the seeds and fruit of banana, avocado, chestnut, kiwi, pineapple, mango, passionfruit, fig, soy, and strawberry. Some of these foods have a form of latex.2
Dealing with a Latex Allergy
Prevention is important when it involves latex allergic reactions. Reducing exposure, informing healthcare workers (doctors, dentists) about the allergy, using alternative gloves (vinyl, nitrile) and non-latex condoms, avoiding latex powder inhalation, and wearing a medical alert bracelet can all help prevent latex exposure. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers situations where employees have severe allergies, and accommodations may be available in those work situations.3 Latex allergies have been recognized since the 1970s, and there are now warnings and standards in the workplace regarding exposure and prevention.4 Avoidance is considered the most effective approach. Once someone becomes allergic to latex, it is critical that they take special precautions to avoid repeated exposure. Wearing non-latex gloves, not wearing oil-based hand lotions (which can deteriorate latex gloves), washing hands after using latex gloves, washing latex dust off surfaces, and recognizing allergic symptoms can help people prevent severe reactions in the first place. Fortunately, life-threatening reactions are rarely the first sign that a latex allergy has been developed.5 The American Latex Allergy Association provides many educational resources and links to people who suffer from this disorder.6
Learn about how chiropractic care can assist with allergies.