Latex Allergy is a common allergy in people who are regularly exposed to latex products such as rubber gloves. This allergy is common among healthcare workers, people who have undergone multiple surgeries, rubber industry workers, laboratory workers, hairdressers, housekeeping workers, food handlers, and gardeners.
Latex is a watery milky sap that is derived and tapped from rubber trees. It is processed with other chemicals to enhance its elasticity. Rubber latex can be found in rubber gloves, rubber bands, erasers, balloons, and condoms.
In Latex Allergy, the body’s immune system perceives latex as an allergen and triggers a cascade of an allergic reaction. Half of the people with Latex Allergy have an allergy to other common allergies.
What are the Symptoms of Latex Allergy?
The reaction symptoms can range from mild to very severe, including life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction. The severity of Latex Allergy can worsen with repeated exposure of the latex substance as the body’s immune system is sensitized by latex during the past exposure, and recognizes the allergen during subsequent exposures.
In this reaction, the allergic symptoms tend to occur 12-36 hours after exposure to latex and manifest as contact dermatitis. One can present with red, itchy and scaly raw skin. The symptoms tend to be localized over the exposed skin area, and they are not life-threatening.
This type of allergic reaction occurs in people who have been exposed to latex and the body’s immune system is sensitized to latex and able to recognize the allergen on subsequent exposure, leading to more severe immune responses such as:
- Itchy nose, throat, mouth, and ears
- Sneezing and runny nose
- Wheezing and coughing
- Itchy, red, watery eyes
In severe life-threatening case, anaphylaxis can occur within minutes of exposure to latex. Anaphylaxis symptoms typically involve more than one body system, with manifestations of:
- Airway symptoms: lip, tongue and throat swelling, eye swelling, breathing difficulty, wheezing
- Cardiovascular symptoms: dizzy spells, faint, collapse
- Skin symptoms: itchy red wheals, skin swelling
- Abdominal symptoms: cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea
*Call 995 or seek medical assistance immediately if you suspect anaphylaxis.
What do I expect when I see my doctor for Latex Allergy?
Your doctor will enquire a thorough medical and allergy history. In certain clear cut cases, a history of latex exposure followed by a reaction may suffice to diagnose the allergy. In other cases, your doctor may offer you allergy testing such as skin prick test, patch tests and RAST blood tests to determine your allergy triggers.
What are the Treatment Options for Latex Allergy?
Avoidance is key.
- Use latex-free gloves, such as synthetic gloves made of vinyl or nitrile gloves.
- Natural rubber latex from desert plant guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is safe in latex allergy people. (One may still prefer rubber latex to synthetic latex as rubber latex are more elastic.)
- Use natural skin condoms. (however, natural skin condoms does not protect one against STIs and HIV.)
- Avoid contact with latex balloons, do not blow balloons.
- Be careful when attending parties, or assisting in events decorations that may have balloons or other latex substances.
Mild skin reactions can be relieved with oral antihistamine and topical corticosteroids.
People with anaphylaxis secondary to Latex Allergy to carry auto-injectable epinephrine (Epipen) in case of a severe life-threatening emergency. They should be taught how to self-administer the injection. Those suspected of anaphylaxis should seek medical help as soon as possible to prevent a fatality.