Less Common Allergies: Latex

Allergies to latex have come into the forefront in the past 20 years. The latex allergy is an immunological reaction to natural rubber latex. Latex is processed from the Hevea Brasiliensis tree which grows in Central and South America.

The American Latex Allergy Association states that “Up to 17% of healthcare workers in the United States have latex allergy, compared with less than 1% of the rest of the population.”

Children with spina bifida appear to be more at risk for latex allergy, as do children of health care workers. Children can also have latex-induced asthma where breathing problems occur upon exposure to latex.

Contact dermatitis, which technically isn’t an allergic reaction, can occur for those people who wear latex protective gloves. It’s most likely due to sweating or rubbing under gloves or from soap or detergents left on hands before wearing gloves. This rash occurs most often in people who wear protective gloves, so it’s common among dental and health care workers. Irritant contact dermatitis usually makes your skin appear red, dry and cracked.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a reaction to the latex or chemical additives used during the manufacturing process. The chemicals added to latex can cause a skin rash to develop 24 to 48 hours after contact. The rash usually starts on the parts of your skin that have come in contact with latex, and then may spread to other areas. Oozing blisters also may occur. A rash caused by allergic contact dermatitis may look like a rash caused by poison ivy.

An actual latex allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to proteins found in natural rubber latex. In a latex allergy, exposure to latex may cause immediate reactions, such as itching, redness, swelling, sneezing and wheezing. Anaphylactic reactions can also occur, which would necessitate the use of epinephrine.

The latex allergy appears to cross-react with other foods such as bananas and avocados. Individuals with allergies to these foods may also have an allergic reaction to latex.

According to research published in the July 2006 Southern Medical Journal, people with latex allergy should be careful around poinsettia plants. The plants are closely related to natural rubber latex and can cause contact allergy symptoms. An earlier study presented to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in 2003 reported 40% of latex-allergic people tested were also allergic to poinsettias.

Latex is found in so many products, it’s impossible to list them all. Here are just a few:

  • Pacifiers
  • Baby bottle nipples
  • Tires
  • Contraceptives such as condoms
  • Underwear
  • Balloons
  • Band-Aids
  • And of course latex gloves

If your child has had a reaction to latex, you should have an allergy test completed. This test will most likely to be a blood test. Skin testing can be too dangerous for the highly allergic patient.

When visiting your dentist or doctor, make sure to tell them BEFORE the appointment about your child’s allergy. There are latex free gloves available, however many in the medical fields prefer the feel of the latex gloves.

At carnivals or circuses, watch out for latex balloons. Some schools with latex allergic children have banned balloons from their festivities. School lunchroom workers can also switch to plastic gloves for the latex allergic.

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