Natural rubber latex is a common ingredient found in many consumer products, such as balloons, balls, appliance cords, hoses, hot water bottles, pacifiers, swim wear, toys, tires, condoms, rubber bands and shoes. Latex also can be found in many medical or dental supplies and devices, such as masks, gloves, syringes, catheters, dressings, tape and bandages.
Unlike some consumer goods made from synthetic (man made) latex, such as house paint, natural rubber latex is derived from a milky substance found in rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis).
While many people come in safe contact with latex-containing products every day, some susceptible individuals have developed hypersensitivity to proteins derived from natural rubber latex, which can cause allergic reactions.
Causes and Symptoms
Latex allergy generally develops after repeated exposure to products containing natural rubber latex. When latex-containing medical devices or supplies come in contact with mucous membranes, the membranes may absorb latex proteins. The immune system of some susceptible individuals produces antibodies that react immunologically with these antigenic proteins.
This is a concern particularly for people who are constantly exposed to latex examination or surgical gloves and other latex-based health care products. The powder used on latex gloves can absorb the gloves’ latex proteins and cause increased exposure to latex. In addition, as the gloves are removed, the powder may become airborne, coming in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth.
When exposed to latex proteins, a latex-sensitive individual, whether a health care worker or a patient, may experience minor symptoms, such as hives or nasal congestion. Severe cases may result in anaphylaxis, a dangerous systemic reaction that causes a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, tongue and nose, and even loss of consciousness and could be life-threatening if unattended. Emergency medical attention is needed at the first sign of anaphylactic reaction.
Am I at Risk?
Although anyone can develop an allergy to latex, the number of people who do is quite small considering the millions who are exposed every day to consumer products that contain natural rubber latex. Individuals with an increased risk are those who have spina bifida and have undergone numerous surgeries, those who are prone to allergies, health care workers, rubber industry workers and others who have regular, continuous contact with latex.
If you have had a prior allergic reaction to latex-containing objects, consult us to determine the cause. The doctor also can determine the best strategy for dealing with a latex allergy. Until that is done, avoid contact with all latex products.