What is latex allergy?
Latex is a milky white fluid produced by rubber trees that grow in South America. Latex can be used to manufacture many items that we use in medicine and everyday life including gloves, balloons, rubber bands, car tires, and condoms. During recent years, allergic reaction to latex have been reported with increasing frequency, especially in health care professionals and patients.
The most common type of reaction to latex is a contact dermatitis. In this type of reaction, an individual has itching, redness or scaling of the skin wherever latex has come into contact. This may occur quickly but usually takes a few hours or days to develop. The second type of latex is an immediate, potentially life threatening reaction that is mediated by an allergy antibody (IgE) to latex. In this type of reaction, an individual may have shortness of breath, throat closing, angioedema (swelling), hives, or loss of consciousness when contacting latex. The greatest danger in this type of reaction occurs when latex contacts mucus membranes or moist areas like the mouth, eyes, nasal passages, respiratory tract because more latex can be absorbed quickly.
How is treated?
- The first step is awareness of the problem. After discussing with your doctor, a detailed history and examination will be performed. Skin testing is available and occasionally, laboratory evaluation is helpful.
- Avoidance is the hallmark of treatment. Substitution of synthetic gloves for latex and synthetic products in place of natural rubber latex products is important. There is no adequate substitution for latex condoms available. Natural skin condoms may prevent pregnancy but do not protect against viruses such as HIV.
- Certain fruits such as banana, avocado, kiwi and chestnuts must also be avoided in patients sensitive to latex due to cross-reactivity.
- Patients with immediate life threatening reactions to latex should carry injectable epinephrine and have a medical alert bracelet.