When your body mistakes natural rubber latex for a harmful substance, it is called a latex allergy. It is caused by proteins found in natural rubber latex, which is produced from the rubber tree. In addition to itchy skin and hives, latex allergy can cause anaphylaxis, which can cause severe breathing difficulties and throat swelling, a potentially life-threatening condition. In order to determine if you are allergic to latex or if you are at risk of becoming allergic to latex, your health care provider can do so. Preventing allergic reactions can be achieved by understanding latex allergy and knowing common sources of latex.
You are most likely to experience symptoms after touching latex rubber products, such as gloves or balloons, if you are allergic to latex. Inhaling latex particles released when someone removes latex gloves can also cause symptoms. A latex allergy can result in mild to severe symptoms, depending on how sensitive you are to latex and how much latex you touch or inhale. Each additional exposure to latex can intensify your reaction.
Mild latex allergy symptoms include:
- Skin redness
- Hives or rash
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Difficulty breathing
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction:
In highly sensitive people, anaphylactic reactions can be deadly. Anaphylaxis (an-uh-fuh-LAK-tik) develops immediately after latex exposure. However, it rarely occurs the first time.
Anaphylaxis can cause the following symptoms:
Swelling or hives
Symptoms of nausea and vomiting
Blood pressure drops
Loss of consciousness
There is confusion
Pulse that is rapid or weak
When you should see a doctor:
In case of an anaphylactic reaction, seek emergency medical attention. If you have less severe reactions after exposure to latex, speak with your health care provider immediately. This will help with the diagnosis.
When your immune system recognizes latex as a dangerous substance, it triggers certain antibodies to fight it. As a result of these antibodies, your immune system releases histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream the next time you are exposed to latex. It is called sensitisation to your immune system, which triggers a variety of allergy symptoms. The more exposure you have to latex, the stronger your immune system will react.
There are several ways in which latex allergy can occur:
Contact with latex-containing products, such as latex gloves, condoms, and balloons, is the most common cause of latex allergy.
The amount of airborne latex released by latex products varies greatly depending on the brand of glove used. Latex particles are inhaled when they become airborne.
Latex can cause other skin reactions. These include:
Symptoms include a rash and blisters that form 24 to 48 hours after contact, similar to poison ivy, caused by the chemical additives used during manufacturing.
It is important to note that not all latex products come from natural sources. Products made from synthetic materials, such as latex paint, are unlikely to cause a reaction.
People with spina bifida — a birth defect that affects the development of the spine — are more likely to develop latex allergies. The risks associated with latex allergy are highest for people with this disorder. The use of latex products should always be avoided by people with spina bifida.