Causes and Symptoms of Latex Allergy and its Treatment

Latex allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to certain proteins found in this material. Learn more about it in this article!
Causes and Symptoms of Latex Allergy and its Treatment

Last update: 19 July, 2021

Some people have an allergy to latex, a material made from the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). This material is also known as “natural rubber,” and many products we use every day are made from it.

Latex allergy occurs when an individual’s immune system overreacts to certain proteins found in this material. This is because companies use it to manufacture many objects we come into direct contact with every day.

Estimates indicate that about four out of every 100 people in the population have a latex allergy. For instance, about 10 out of 100 healthcare workers are allergic to it. This is challenging for this particular group as many medical products are made of or contain latex.

Symptoms of latex allergy

A person with latex allergies.
The symptoms of latex allergy are obvious.

The main characteristic of latex allergy is skin itching or hives. It can also manifest as eye irritation, runny eyes, and nasal redness. It can even lead to anaphylaxis in severe cases. This reaction can be life-threatening as it leads to a swollen throat and difficulty breathing.

Causes and risk factors

Latex is a natural product made up of several components, including proteins. These are the main agents responsible for producing allergies. This is because the small particles released from products made with this material enter the body as they come into contact with the skin or through the lungs when we breathe.

Some people who are allergic to latex cannot identify direct contact with this material. In these cases, specialists believe they came into contact with someone who did and carried particles on their skin or clothing.

Others also propose it may be due to indirect contact, through food that was handled by people wearing latex gloves, for example.

Likely, allergic people aren’t born with this problem, but develop it with repeated contact with this material. In fact, symptoms often don’t appear until after months or years of the first contact with latex.

Which products contain latex?

These products are everywhere and people use them because they’re soft and resistant.

Products for medical use

This is a frequent component in medical devices such as:

  • Disposable gloves
  • Syringes
  • A stethoscope or a sphygmomanometer
  • Airway and intravenous cannulas
  • Bandages

Some countries have regulations about using medical devices containing latex and users must indicate it, to keep them from contacting allergic people.

Everyday products

Many everyday products contain latex or some other form of natural rubber, such as:

  • Balloons
  • Rubber bands
  • Condoms and diaphragms
  • Gloves
  • Tires
  • Toys
  • Handles of objects

In general, these products rarely cause problems, except in extremely sensitive people.

Other products

There’s a connection between allergy to certain foods and latex. This is because some foods contain the same allergens as latex. Some of them are:

  • Avocado
  • Celery
  • Banana
  • Passion fruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Chestnut

This is important because people allergic to latex are more likely to also be allergic to these foods or at least have a cross-reaction.

Diagnostic tests

Diagnosing a latex allergy is a challenge, as is for many others. The doctor will examine your skin and ask questions about your symptoms and also look for specific data with which to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

They may order a skin reaction test to determine if it reacts to latex proteins. They’ll insert a small needle on the skin of the forearm or back to inject a tiny amount of latex to do so.

Then, they interpret the result after the skin reacts with the sample. A person who’s allergic to latex will present inflammation where the doctor applied the latex. Only a specialist should do this test, an allergist or other physician experienced in skin testing and reactions.

Treatments available

An expiration date.
Antihistamines are the drugs of choice against allergies.

Some medications can reduce the symptoms, but it’s important to emphasize that latex allergy has no specific cure. The best way to avoid allergic reactions to latex is to avoid using any products containing it.

The doctor may prescribe antihistamines or low doses of corticosteroids when reactions after contact with latex are mild. These medications help control the reaction and relieve possible discomfort.

However, you might have unintentional contact with latex products even if you try to avoid them. You might want to keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to these products in the past.

Go to your nearest ER for immediate treatment in case of an anaphylactic reaction.

Prevention of latex allergy and recommendations

People allergic to latex need to inform all the health personnel attending them as hospitals use the most products containing latex. Likewise, working in a hospital environment is one of the most important factors to develop latex allergy.

Another form of prevention is to substitute products made with latex for those made with different materials. There are latex-free gloves, bandages, condoms, and toys in the market.

In addition, you must avoid the fruits mentioned above to avoid an allergic reaction due to the type of proteins they contain.

Latex allergy is a complex condition

Finally, timely diagnosis is essential in these cases and there’s a delay in diagnosis in many patients. Two years could go by from the onset of dermatitis until asthma symptoms appear.

Some of the most important measures are to use latex-free products and inform health professionals of your allergy before any procedure. Thus, this is the best way to avoid direct or accidental contact with latex.

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