What is Latex Allergy? Symptoms, Prevention, and More

What is Latex Allergy? Get All the Facts Here!

Author : Commerzilla LLC on January 19, 2022

Do you know what latex allergies are? If not, don't worry - you're not alone. In fact, many people have never even heard of this condition before. But if you happen to be one of the unlucky few who suffer from a latex allergy, then you know just how serious it can be.

So what is latex allergy? And what can you do to treat it? Keep reading to find out!

Latex allergy guide

What is latex?

Latex is a milky white liquid that is most commonly found beneath the bark of Hevea brasiliensis, a plant native to the Amazon. It’s used to make things like balloons, shoe soles, rubber gloves, etc. And it can be found in everything from car tires to yoga mats!

Natural latex is found in almost 10% of all flowering plants. It is a complex mixture of proteins, starches, alkaloids, resins, oils, tannins, and gums. Even though latex comes from natural plants, it can also be made synthetically using various chemical processes.

There are four different types of latex - natural latex, organic latex, synthetic latex, and blended latex.

What products contain latex?

Here is a list of latex products found in the household and medical industry.

  • Pens with rubber coating
  • Balloons
  • Mattresses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rubber bands, elastic bands, and physical therapy bands
  • Rubber toys
  • Paint
  • Diapers and sanitary napkins
  • Buttons and switches on electronic devices
  • Baby-bottle nipples
  • Bandages
  • Handles on sports rackets
  • Shoe soles
  • Blood pressure cuffs
  • Syringes

Gloves made of natural rubber latex

What is latex allergy?

You’re probably wondering, “What is latex allergy?” Well, we have the answer.

A latex allergy can be defined as a reaction to certain proteins found in natural rubber latex. If a person is allergic to latex, the body treats this material as an allergen and sets off an allergic reaction.

Reactions to latex ranges from mild to severe and can even be fatal.

People with latex allergies can have an allergic reaction when they inhale latex particles or come into contact with latex.

Health care workers who are under regular exposure to products made of latex, such as latex gloves belong to the risk category of developing latex allergy.

What are the symptoms of latex allergy?

Latex allergy symptoms develop after continuous previous exposures to latex in most cases. The symptoms range from minor skin irritations to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Once exposed to latex, symptoms may start within minutes or may not appear until hours later. They may be very mild at first, progressing to more severe types of symptoms.

The most common latex allergy symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Hives
  • Runny nose
  • Throat irritation
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, and chest tightness

A woman itching her hand due to latex allergy

What are the causes of latex allergy?

If you are someone who is allergic to latex, your immune system identifies this material as a harmful substance. This triggers specific antibodies to start the battle off. The very next time you're exposed to natural latex, these antibodies inform your immune system to release chemicals into your bloodstream, producing allergic symptoms.

The more times a person is exposed to natural latex, the more powerful his immune system is likely to respond. This is called sensitization.

Latex allergy can occur through direct contact and inhalation of latex products.

What are the types of latex allergy?

There are three types of latex allergies.

1. Allergic contact dermatitis

An allergic contact dermatitis is a form of Type IV cell-mediated reaction to natural rubber latex. Even though this allergic reaction is not life-threatening, it is still a major concern.

This type of contact dermatitis is usually limited to the skin, where contact occurs with rubber products.

Allergic contact dermatitis is actually a delayed type of hypersensitivity response. Once an individual is exposed to latex, the signs and symptoms may usually take 24-48 hours to develop.

Symptoms of Type IV cell-mediated reactions are confined to the skin. This includes a red rash, papules, vesiculation (blister-type rash), and oozing.

2. Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is not a life-threatening type of latex allergy. It usually happens as a result of repeated exposure to latex products.

This dermatitis is different from allergic contact dermatitis.

An immune system sensitization and reaction do not mediate irritant contact dermatitis.

The rashes occurred as a result of irritant contact dermatitis may be itchy, but most commonly is red and accompanied by skin cracking.

Unlike allergic contact dermatitis, there are rarely vesiculation, papules, or oozing of the skin in this case.

3. IgE-mediated allergic reactions

An IgE-mediated allergic reaction to latex is more serious and can be life-threatening. This reaction is caused by  IgE (an allergic antibody), directed against retained proteins in latex products.

IgE-mediated latex reaction is mostly triggered by:

  • Direct skin contact
  • Mucosal surface contact, including eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Inhalation of latex particles

What foods are related to latex allergy?

Certain foods have proteins that are structured a lot like those present in the rubber tree sap. Sometimes people with latex allergies also experience a reaction to eating, touching, or even smelling them. These foods are known as ‘latex cross-reactive food’ and include the following:

  • Banana
  • Chestnut
  • Avocado
  • Kiwi
  • Apple
  • Celery
  • Tomato
  • Potato
  • Melon

How is latex allergy diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose latex allergy in individuals who experience allergic reactions or are known to be at risk for a latex allergy.

Latex allergy reaction test of a patient

If you think you are allergic to natural rubber latex, make sure you consult an allergist. Share your medical history and give details on what kind of latex products you were exposed to when you experienced a reaction.

After checking the medical history, conducting a physical exam as well as various laboratory and clinical tests, an allergist makes the diagnosis.

Laboratory testing is not enough to make a diagnosis. There is a blood test option, but the results may not be 100 percent accurate.

Skin testing or blood testing can be used to identify latex-specific IgE antibodies. Keep in mind that skin testing for latex allergy may have a small risk of adverse reactions.

The use of patch testing confirms contact dermatitis.

Irritant dermatitis is usually diagnosed by examining the patient's medical history.

Latex allergy treatment

The best treatment for latex allergy is avoiding latex-based products. If you have a severe latex allergy, consider wearing a medical alert bracelet. You can also carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of emergency treatment.

How to prevent latex allergy?

  • Health care workers with latex sensitivity should wear non-latex gloves.
  • Patients with latex allergies should avoid areas where powdered latex gloves or other latex products are used.
  • In the case of an IgE-mediated latex allergy, personal contact with natural rubber latex products should be avoided. Also, a change in environment may be necessary if there is airborne exposure causing breathing difficulty or asthma.
  • If you are going for dental and medical procedures, alert health care providers about your allergic reactions to latex.

What percentage of the population is allergic to latex?

Latex allergy is very rare. It affects 1 to 6 percent of the general population.

A latex allergy is common in employees who belong to the medical or dental health field.

In fact, 8 to 12 percent of healthcare workers have been diagnosed with latex allergy.

People who undergo multiple surgeries (example: spina bifida patients) also belong to the risk category of developing latex allergy.

Be it any kind of allergies, most people out there manage them by making lifestyle changes. This includes reading labels before buying or avoiding products they are allergic to.

Yes, we know these changes aren’t always easy, but they are vital if you really want to stay well and live a healthy life. Learn to recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction so you can get help right away. Also, let others know about your problems so they can help if you need assistance.

Related blog posts:

1. All About Latex Material - History, Types, Production, and More

2. Top 10 Benefits of a Latex Mattress

3. Why are Latex Pillows Environmentally Safe and Good for You?

4. Dunlop Latex vs Talalay Latex: Which One is the Best?

5. Is Avocado Healthy?

If you have any questions about latex allergy please let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you with any comments or questions!

Lastly, please note that this is a health based article and you should consult with a licensed Physician to diagnose and treat any symptoms you may have!

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