|Latex allergy is an allergic reaction to the proteins present in the milky sap of the Hevea brasiliensis rubber tree. Latex allergy is also known as a natural rubber latex allergy.
Latex allergy generally develops after repeated exposure to medical and consumer products containing natural rubber latex.
Allergy to latex may pose a serious health risk to:
How common is latex allergy?
While latex allergy is rare, affecting 1 to 6 percent of the general population, it is much more common in employees who work in the medical or dental health field.
In fact, 10-17 percent of healthcare workers and 33.8 percent of dental care workers have been diagnosed with latex allergy. In addition, 17 percent of restaurant workers have been diagnosed with latex allergy.
People who undergo multiple surgeries – such as spina bifida patients – are also at increased risk for latex allergy.
What are the different types of latex allergy?
There are three types of reactions to natural rubber products.
IgE-mediated allergic reactions (Type I)
An IgE-mediated allergic reaction to latex can be life threatening. IgE-mediated reactions are serious and what people are most concerned about preventing. This reaction is caused by an allergic antibody, IgE, directed against retained proteins in latex products.
This reaction is triggered by:
Cell-mediated contact dermatitis (Type IV)
Cell-mediated contact dermatitis is an allergic contact dermatitis. A Type IV cell-mediated reaction is not life-threatening but it is still a major concern. A cell-mediated reaction is usually limited to the skin where contact occurs with rubber products. The rubber products contain numerous chemicals used in its production that can cause a reaction in some people.
This type of contact dermatitis is a delayed type immune reaction. Symptoms may take 24-48 hours to develop from the time of exposure to reaction.
Symptoms of Type IV allergic contact dermatitis reactions are confined to the skin:
If someone is repeatedly exposed with a Type IV reaction, the rash may develop into a chronic problem and may even extend beyond the site of contact.
People can have both a delayed contact allergy to chemicals in latex along with an IgE-mediated allergic latex allergy.
Irritant contact dermatitis
Individuals who use rubber products frequently (for example, healthcare workers who wear gloves) may develop irritant dermatitis.
This dermatitis is different from allergic contact dermatitis. It is not mediated by an immune system sensitization and reaction. Rather, it is caused by frequent skin washing, sweating and/or irritation from powder lubricants.
This rash may be itchy, but most commonly is dry, red, and accompanied by skin cracking. There are rarely papules, vesiculation or oozing of the skin. It never extends beyond the point of contact with the offending irritant.
There are two major categories of natural rubber latex:
Synthetic rubber latex products do NOT contain natural rubber latex proteins but may contain rubber accelerators that are used in manufacturing. If you are sensitive to accelerators, you may have a synthetic rubber latex reaction.
Download Our Free “Latex Allergy: A Practical Guide for Patients and Providers”
What are symptoms of latex allergy?
Latex allergy (Type I) symptoms range from skin irritation to respiratory symptoms to life-threatening anaphylaxis – and there’s no way to predict which will occur if exposed.
Symptoms of latex allergy may be mild at first, progressing to more serious types of symptoms.
Symptoms of latex allergy include:
A latex allergy reaction can also result in anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Symptoms can start within seconds of exposure to latex or may not appear until hours later. The allergic reaction can be different each time a person experiences anaphylaxis and can vary in severity each time. Once the reaction starts, it usually progresses quickly. This makes identifying anaphylaxis and responding to care tricky at times.
A board-certified healthcare professional, often an allergist, makes the diagnosis of latex allergy, as well as contact dermatitis and/or irritant dermatitis. The healthcare professional uses a combination of medical history, physical exam and various laboratory and clinical tests. Laboratory testing alone is not enough to make a diagnosis.
Patients are encouraged to provide a full list of items and foods that may have caused a latex-allergic reaction to help determine whether latex allergy is present.
How is latex allergy diagnosed?
Allergy to latex may be challenging to diagnose and treat.
If you suspect you have a latex allergy, consult an allergist. Be prepared with as much medical history as possible, including where you were and what latex products you were exposed to when you experienced a reaction.
The diagnosis of latex allergy, contact dermatitis and/or irritant dermatitis is made by an allergist after completing these three parts of an evaluation:
Laboratory testing alone is not enough to make a diagnosis. There is a blood test available, but the results are not 100 percent accurate.
Latex-specific IgE antibodies can be identified through skin testing or by blood tests. (Patients should be aware that skin testing for latex allergy has a small risk of adverse reactions.) There is no FDA-approved skin test reagent for latex allergy in the United States.
Contact dermatitis is confirmed by the use of patch testing.
Irritant dermatitis is diagnosed by the patient’s medical history and a physical examination.
How do you prevent a latex allergy reaction?
Treatment for a latex allergy involves avoidance of the source of latex that causes the reaction.
In the case of IgE-mediated allergy, personal contact with rubber products should be stopped and a change of environment may be necessary if there is airborne exposure causing asthma or occupational asthma.
This is most prominent in settings that use cornstarch powdered latex gloves. Cornstarch powder serves as a carrier for allergenic proteins from latex. It may become airborne when the product is used. These protein particles can easily become airborne and people with latex allergy may experience a reaction if the powder is inhaled or comes in contact with the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose or skin.
Some latex products are more allergenic than others. Latex products most likely to cause a reaction are those made by a dipping method (gloves, condoms, balloons). However, molded, vulcanized rubber products (tires, for example) also maintain latex allergen proteins.
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How do you treat a latex allergy reaction?
Latex allergy treatment depends on the type of reaction that is present – a mild sensitivity or a life-threatening allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis.
NOTE: Treatments mentioned here are for informational purposes only. If you have a latex allergy and require treatment, you should see a board-certified allergist to determine the best treatment for you.
Is latex allergy preventable?
Latex allergy is preventable but not curable. Awareness and education are the keys to managing the condition.
The only way for people with latex allergy to prevent symptoms is strict avoidance of latex. Allergy & Asthma Network supports policies where latex gloves are prohibited from use in healthcare and dental facilities, schools, food establishments, and by emergency responders. Many facilities have responded by switching to latex-safe gloves and medical products and supplies.
What items contain latex?
There are more than 40,000 products worldwide that contain latex and it’s often very difficult for people with latex allergy to perform everyday tasks and live a full, active life. Latex allergy generally develops after repeat exposure to medical and consumer products containing natural rubber latex.
The difficulty in managing latex allergy is that latex and latex proteins are found in so many common everyday products. For example, your daily mail may be wrapped in a rubber band; there may be a celebration that includes latex balloons; or the elastic waistband on underwear may cause a sudden and unexpected allergic emergency.
Additional products made with latex include:
Is there a list of latex free items?
We have compiled a list of latex-free sports equipment and latex-free school product List.
If you are unsure whether a product contains natural rubber latex, you can use this sample letter to contact the manufacturer to find out if it contains latex.
What foods are related to latex?
People with latex allergies may also develop allergic reactions to some fruits and vegetables. About half of people with a latex allergy may develop allergy symptoms from avocado, banana or kiwi.
This happens due to cross reactivity. Some of the proteins in natural rubber latex are similar to those found in cross-reactive fruits and vegetables.
At the same time, people with food allergies to certain fruits and vegetables may have allergic reactions to latex. This may occur in approximately 10% of food allergic individuals.
What do you do if you have a latex allergy?
Download Our Free “Latex Allergy Patient Checklist”
Can you eat at restaurants with a latex allergy?
For individuals with latex allergy, the challenge at restaurants is threefold:
What can you do to safely navigate restaurants with a latex allergy?
First, share your latex allergy diagnosis with the hostess or manager. Find out if the kitchen staff uses latex gloves during any aspect of food preparation. If so, emphasize the severity of your allergy and the potential consequences if you are exposed – you want to grab their attention.
Check out websites and menus of any restaurant you plan to visit. Many restaurants have already adopted a non-latex policy. This list includes Burger King, Quizno’s, Denny’s, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, Red Robin, Arby’s, Subway, Bahama Breeze, Domino’s Pizza and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Disney World and Disneyland also have adopted a non-latex policy.
Higher risk situations are establishments with buffets (risk of cross contamination), pre-made foods (unable for the chef to eliminate an ingredient) and eateries that frequently use banana, kiwi or avocado. Look for restaurants that have food allergy training for employees.
Notify the hostess and server of your latex allergy and review the menu for dishes that are unsafe. Bring a “chef card” with details of your allergy that the server can hand to the chef. By submitting this card, you don’t have to rely solely on verbal communication passing from server to chef.
Latex-allergic individuals should carry two epinephrine auto-injectors, wear medical identification and pack a copy of a letter from an allergist detailing the diagnosis and what to do in case of an emergency.
How to navigate restaurants with a latex allergy
The frenzied pace of working in a restaurant requires every member of the staff – from hostess, executive chef, manager, line cook and server – to be familiar with food and latex allergies, and to work together to ensure food service is safe.
Call the restaurant, ask for the manager or host, and discuss your latex allergy. Ask if the restaurant has latex balloons on display and if kitchen staff uses latex gloves during any part of food preparation.
Emphasize the severity of your latex allergy and the potential consequences if you are exposed to latex.
What are important things to know about latex allergy and schools?
Providing a safe environment for students at school goes beyond food and environmental allergies – latex allergy must also be considered. In the school setting, we often see latex allergies in children who have experienced multiple medical procedures, especially children with spina bifida.
Latex appears in items commonly used in school, including many brands of erasers, balloons, rubber bands, gloves, balls and mats used in physical education. The school needs to identify latex-free school products and latex-free sports equipment when a student has an allergy.
All members of the school community should collaborate to manage latex allergy by:
What are important things to know about latex allergy and vaccines?
Some vaccine packaging contains latex, posing a threat to people who have a latex allergy. There is concern that latex proteins may be mixed with the medication through packaging and storage of the vaccine vial, and also through puncturing the vial stopper to “draw up” the vaccine. The same concern exists with vaccines that are stored in syringes with latex in the plungers.
While the extent of the risk is unknown, it is difficult to be sure how much latex may be present in a vaccine package. Since current recommendations are based on limited data, patients should talk with their allergists to determine the best approach to obtaining a needed vaccine.
Current strategies can include:
Can Poinsettia Plants cause latex allergy reaction?
The poinsettia plant, used for holiday decorating, is botanically related to natural rubber latex. When the leaves or stems are broken, it releases a milky white substance that can cause reaction in latex allergic individuals.
What type of allergic reaction is latex?
There are two main types of reactions to natural rubber latex: Immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated (classic immediate allergic reaction) Contact dermatitis (delayed allergic reaction)
What are the three types of allergic reactions to latex?
There are three types of reactions to natural rubber products..
IgE-mediated allergic reaction (Type I).
allergic contact dermatitis (Type IV).
Irritant contact dermatitis..
Is an allergy to latex common?
Latex allergies are rare. Less than 1% of people in the United States are allergic to latex. Latex allergies have decreased in recent years because more hospitals now use latex-free and powder-free gloves. Anyone can develop a latex allergy, but some people have a higher risk of developing the condition.