Latex Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment; Latex Products and Substitutes

Latex Production

Latex is made from the milky fluid found inside the Hevea brasiliensis (rubber tree) of Southeast Asia and Africa. A protein contained in latex can trigger an allergic reaction for some people. The cornstarch powder that sometimes covers latex products like gloves contains latex particles that fly around in the air when disturbed. This causes additional exposure to latex via the particles in the air and on all the surfaces they then land on and cover.

What are Latex Allergy Symptoms?

An allergic reaction to latex is similar to that of pollen allergens in symptomology. It includes itchy, watery eyes; runny nose; coughing; rash or hives; sneezing; chest tightness and shortness of breath.

The reaction can vary from mild to severe enough to require immediate medical attention. A severe reaction is commonly characterized by symptoms such as wheezing; confusion; nausea or vomiting; rapid or weak pulse; and loss of consciousness.

How is a Latex Allergy Diagnosed?

Allergies can occur anytime, and those who have not had problems with latex previously can develop a latex allergy. Those with a higher repeat exposure rate to latex, such as health care workers, are at higher risk for developing a latex allergy. [Reddy, M.D.]

For some people, an immediate reaction to latex is an indicator of a possible latex allergy. However, confirmation or diagnosis may be obtained by ‘Latex-specific IgE testing and skin prick testing’. [Reddy, M.D.]

What Treatments and Cures are Available for Latex Allergy Sufferers?

Though there is no cure for latex allergy, there are things that can be done to reduce risk and to treat symptoms.

To reduce risk, soak and wash thoroughly all products to be used that contain or may contain latex before use. Keep latex away from direct contact with the skin whenever possible. The best thing to do is to avoid latex products as much as possible.

Treating the symptoms of latex allergy is the same as the treatment for other allergic reactions. Milder symptoms may be addressed with anti-itch treatments such as oatmeal soaks and calamine lotion. Over the counter antihistamine medications may also be used to treat milder symptoms.

More severe reactions may require treatment with an anaphylaxis kit, and should immediately receive official medical attention, regardless.

Sources of Latex

There are far too many sources of latex to list, but a few of the more common ones may be found in the following consumer products:

Babies and Children:

  • Pacifiers
  • Bottle nipples
  • Bulb syringes
  • Diapers
  • Elastic
  • Underwear
  • Balloons
  • Koosh balls, soccer balls, volleyballs
  • Rubber ducks
  • Rubber mats
  • Carpet backing foam rubber

Youth and Adults:

  • Erasers
  • Craft supplies
  • Make up
  • Halloween/Costume masks
  • Adhesives, adhesive bandages
  • Elastic
  • Underwear
  • Disposable gloves, cleaning gloves, first aid/medical gloves
  • Koosh balls, soccer balls, volleyballs
  • Rubber ducks
  • Coated or taped racquet handles
  • Condoms (male and female), diaphragms
  • Computer mouse pads
  • Buttons on electronic equipment
  • Rubber mats
  • Carpet backing foam rubber

Even food that has been handled by people wearing powdered latex gloves can become contaminated and be a hazard for those with a latex allergy.

Substitutes for Latex

As the number of latex allergies increase, it is becoming easier to find substitute products and materials. A few of these items include:

  • nitrile gloves, vinyl (pvc), neoprene gloves
  • latex-free bandages
  • latex-free or non-latex balloons, mylar balloons *rubber balloons can cause a reaction as well
  • silicone
  • spandex, lycra fabric
  • leather balls
  • synthetic rubber, natural membrane condoms

For More Information:

The American Latex Allergy Association has a wealth of information relating to latex allergy. It may be accessed online at https://www.latexallergyresources.org/

Sources:

Latex Rubber Products and Substitutes. Dr. G. Sussman and Dr. FE Hargreave in cooperation with Medical Devices Bureau, Halth Protreciton Branch, Health Canada Task Force on Latex Allergies. January 1994. https://www.uam.es/departamentos/medicina/anesnet/gtoa/latex/latxprod.htm

Latex Allergy. Sumana Reddy, M.D. American Family Physicians. January 1, 1998. https://www.aafp.org/afp/980101ap/reddy.html

Latex Allergy. Mayo Clinic Staff. MayoClinic.com. December 1, 2007. https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/latex-allergy/DS00621

Image Source

Latex Production. Wikimedia Commons. GNU Documentation Free License.