Latex allergy is more and more popular today seeing how we’re surrounded by rubber objects in our day to day lives. Although the most common symptoms of this type of already are watery eyes and a runny nose other harsher reactions like eczema and anaphylaxis can occur. This type of allergy occurs after prolonged exposure to objects containing latex and it due to certain proteins in the natural rubber.

The issue is growing as over 10 million tons of latex aroused every year in the production of various items. Avoiding latex nowadays can be a daunting task as it is present all around, in household and especially medical objects.

Exposure and triggers

Latex allergy is not genetic but rather it develops through exposure to latex containing items when they come in contact with the human body. The protein in latex is adsorbed and the immune system treats it like a threat and initiates and immunological response. The most common items containing latex are shoes, condoms, diaphragms, balloons, balls, toys, elastic bands, pacifiers, appliance cords, swimwear, erasers, office supplies with rubber coating and many others.

Even if you might manage to remove all of the latex items around the house there are still the outside threats. Grocery check-out belts and escalator railings contain latex. It is also used as coating for bars in various means of transportation in order to make them easier to hold on to. However the biggest issue is a visit to the doctor. First of all, most rubber gloves are made from latex as well as several other medical supplies.

Predisposed persons

As previously stated late allergy is a byproduct of increased latex objects usage so the most prone to get it people are health care workers,  condom/diaphragm users and rubber industry workers. However some people are more sensitive than others to this type of allergy so it may occur unevenly.  Also underlying medical conditions and such increase the risk of having an allergic reaction. In children born with spina bifida the chance of having an allergic reaction to latex is about 68%. People with other allergies and asthma backgrounds are also prone.

Another factor that has been found to influence the sensitivity to latex is surgery. People who have underwent multiple surgeries, especially during childhood, seem to have an increased sensitivity to latex. Also people with deformed urinary tracts are more sensitive, mostly due to the fact they have to wear a catheter that has a rubber tip.

Symptoms of Latex Allergy

The symptoms may vary from person to person, however latex causes mostly type IV and type I allergic reactions. Eczema is one of the most common responses of the human body to latex when it’s allergic. These reactions can vary in intensity and on set period as follows:

  • Delayed dermatitis – this is not necessarily an allergic reaction and is considered to be the mildest form of latex reaction. Most of the time it happens to be because of additives used in the processing of latex or because of the chemicals certain latex objects come coated with, like gloves. This type of reactions occur several hours after exposure and in some sever cases the eczema can spread to other regions of the body besides the ones that came in contact with latex. This, however, is not a life threatening situation.
  • Immediate reactions – these reactions are caused by hypersensitivity to latex and it is usually caused by repeated exposure to latex, in cases were no underlying medical condition exists. The onset of the reactions is immediate. This type of reaction manifests itself through runny nose, pink eye, itchy throat, itching and eczema. In cases of latex hypersensitivity things can easily escalate to tremors, increased heartbeat, difficulty breathing, anaphylactic shock and sometimes (extremely rare) even death.

Diagnosis of Latex Allergy

Testing for latex allergy cannot be done in house and needs to be taken out with an allergist or immunologist medic. The testing process contains both skin and blood tests. The blood tests are used to test for type I allergic responses (latex hypersensitivity) which is actually and immune system response. Any person who considers to be prone to having such an allergy should get a series of tests as the situation can escalate rapidly.

Management of Latex Allergy

There is no definitive treatment or immunization against latex allergy. The best way to minimize the possibility of such a reaction is by staying clear of latex items. People who only suffer from mild reactions like eczema and inflammation should can take anti-inflammatory medications to help with the symptoms. Also for this kind of reactions antihistamine medication can help, just like for any other allergy. However in the case of severe reactions which might end up in anaphylactic shock these persons should always carry epinephrine shots with them.

Alternatives of Latex

There are alternative materials to latex however they are not as popular and a little harder to find. Most latex item can be found in a variation made form synthetic rubber. Latex gloves can be replaced with nitrile or vinyl gloves. When going to the doctor a person suffering from latex allergy should mention this. Also some restaurants require workers to use rubber gloves when assembling food so it doesn’t hurt to inform them about your allergy.

Silicone is also a popular replacement for latex and some products come in this version as well. Condoms are probably the most popular late product, after gloves. The traditional latex condoms can be replaced with condoms made of natural skin, usually sheep cecum. These are a valid birth control method however do not protect against STDs.

Latex in food

Although latex is not used in food it can be used for items used to store and prepare food. Also some foods can induce a latex allergy type of response. These foods either contain the same protein that causes the allergy or during digestion proteins mimicking that are released. This official name of the condition is the latex-fruit syndrome since most of the foods are fruit. The list of foods contains:

  • Bananas
  • Kiwis
  • Peaches
  • Grapes
  • Papaya
  • Nectarines
  • Melon
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Plums
  • Figs
  • Pineapples
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Wheat
  • Rye

 

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latex_allergy

http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/latex-allergy.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/allergies/latex-allergies