Latex Sensitivity

Natural latex rubber is manufactured from the sap of the rubber plant. It may be found in such diverse products as medical gloves, dental dams, condoms, diaghrams, first aid tape, bandages, pacifiers, baby nipples, cleaning gloves, balloons, balls, racquet handles, erasers, masks, elastic fabric, underwear, diapers, carpet backing, rubber mats and many other products. Not all products containing latex are detectable to the eye and some products such as” latex paints” do not contain latex.

Some individuals develop a sensitivity to the proteins in the natural rubber tree which still remain in the manufactured products. Latex allergy is seen commonly in individuals with other allergies and who are exposed to latex usually at work (dental assistants, for example) or by virtue of a medical condition which exposes them to latex products.

Often the reaction will be seen as a rash on the hands from wearing latex gloves, but individuals may also react to the powder in the gloves. Other manifestations of latex allergy include itchy swollen watery eyes, sneezing, running nose, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Some individuals may develop life threatening symptoms of anaphylactic shock such as hives, respiratory difficulties, and low blood pressure, which require immediate treatment with epinephrine. Often the greater the exposure and the longer the individual is exposed to latex the more severe the reaction.

The diagnosis is best made by a positive latex prick skin test which is a relatively safe procedure, and other tests may be employed to rule out sensitivity to other allergenic materials.

The sensitive individual must avoid contact with all forms of natural latex and should wear a medic alert tag or bracelet so that latex is not used by crews in the event of an emergency. Sources of exposure might be in dental offices, surgical procedures, anesthetic administration, the use of condoms or diaghrams, blowing up balloons, vaginal or rectal examinations, urinary or other catheters, etc. Individuals sensitive to latex should notify medical or dental offices and hospitals of the problem before procedures are to be undertaken. If travelling, sensitive individuals should carry non-latex gloves in the event that they are needed for emergencies. Epinephrine for self administration should be carried in the event of an acute emergency from unwitting exposure. Latex particles may be lessened in the air of dental offices first thing in the morning thus lowering the risk of exposure if early appointments are scheduled. Some latex sensitive individuals also have a cross reaction with certain foods such as bananas, chestnuts, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, and avocado which should be avoided in that event.

Fortunately for most uses there are synthetic gloves made of vinyl, nitrile, neoprene or co-polymer but synthetic condoms are not yet available in Canada, and natural membrane condoms, while providing some pregnancy protection and protection from some sexually transmitted diseases, may not be effective for the AIDS or hepatitis viruses. If there are some individuals sensitive to latex in the work environment, they should either leave the place, or everyone there should switch to non-latex products.

Allergy, Asthma And Immunology Society Of Ontario 2 Demaris Avenue,

Downsview, Ontario M3N 1M1 Canada Allergy Hotline (416) 633 – 2215

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