An allergy to latex can produce a number of mild to severe symptoms. This article mainly discusses the types of latex allergy, along with a few precautionary measures to avoid this condition.
Latex is the milky sap of the rubber plant Hevea brasiliensis, which is used for the commercial production of rubber. Natural rubber latex can be found in a wide range of household and health care items, such as rubber gloves, rubber bands, pacifiers, shoe soles, balloons, toys, disposable diapers, sanitary pads, erasers, condoms, and water bottles to name a few.
Some individuals can be allergic to certain proteins found in the natural rubber latex, as their immune system recognizes the latex as a foreign, harmful substance. As a result, the immune system produces the immunoglobulin E or IgE antibodies, in an attempt to destroy the allergen (in this case, the latex).
The IgE antibodies stimulate the release of histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream, whenever there is an exposure to latex. These chemicals, while trying to destroy the allergen, produce an allergic reaction in the body that can manifest in several mild to moderate symptoms.
Types of Latex Allergy
There are mainly two types of latex allergy, type I allergy and type IV allergy. Type I allergy is an immediate and sometimes, potentially life-threatening reaction to the proteins found in natural rubber latex. This type of latex allergy is more likely to lead to a serious condition, known as anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is characterized by a significant drop in the blood pressure, which can lead to loss of consciousness. The second type of latex allergy is known as type IV allergy, which is also known as contact dermatitis. This can be termed as a delayed hypersensitivity reaction, which typically manifests in skin rash and hives; quite similar to the poison ivy rash.
Latex Allergy Signs
Latex allergy can be caused either by a direct contact or by the inhalation of the airborne latex particles. Its symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on the type of allergy that one develops. The symptoms of this allergy can worsen with repeated exposure. In general, this allergy can produce the following signs and symptoms:
- Skin rash and hives (urticaria)
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
If the allergic reaction worsens and leads to the condition anaphylaxis, then the following signs or symptoms can be observed:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Low blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid or weak pulse
Treatment for Latex Allergy
It is usually diagnosed with the help of the patch test, skin test, blood test, and RAST or Radio-Allergo-Sorbent-Test. The best way to prevent this allergy is to avoid the particular allergen, i.e., latex. However, the main difficulty in limiting the exposure to latex is that this substance is found in numerous household items.
The allergic reaction caused by latex can be treated with antihistamines, corticosteroids, and epinephrine injections. Epinephrine injections are generally used in the case of immediate or type I hypersensitivity reactions and anaphylaxis. On the other hand, the delayed reaction or contact dermatitis can be managed with the help of topical and oral corticosteroids.
People who have been exposed to latex for a long time are more likely to develop allergy to this substance. This is the reason why, health care providers or workers and industrial rubber workers are more prone to develop this allergy. Individuals with a family history of allergies, and children with Spina bifida can also have a greater risk of developing this allergy.
People with latex allergy should be very careful while using any rubber product. They should always read the label of a rubber product to ascertain whether it contains latex. They should also inform their physicians about their allergy, to make sure that their health care providers do not use any material containing latex while treating them. People with latex allergy can have greater chances of developing allergic reactions to certain fruits, like bananas, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi fruit, passionfruit, avocados, and chestnuts, as some of these fruits contain the same type of allergen that is found in latex.
One simple way to inform others that you have latex allergy, is to wear a medical alert bracelet. In an emergency, you may not be in a position to communicate about your allergy to latex. In such a situation, a medical alert bracelet can help avoid further exposure to latex, as it will inform the health care provider about your allergy.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.