Latex is the processed juice of the rubber tree Hevea (Hevea brasiliensis) with the addition of a number of chemicals to impart the necessary properties. This milky juice flows from the incision in the bark in the same way as milk flows from the stems of dandelion, celandine and milkweed. Synthetic latex is made from synthetic rubber. The word “latex” is synonymous with “natural rubber”.
Latex is found in many consumer goods and medical materials, such as inflatable balloons, elastic bands, stockings, shoes, rubber boots, air mattresses, car and bicycle tires, rubber gloves, baby nipples, scuba suits, elastic clothing parts, anesthetic, drainage and infusion products, bottle stoppers, inhalation masks and catheters and much more.
The use of latex in products such as condoms and neck caps requires special care. In addition to problems in sexual life, latex allergy can lead to very serious reactions of the body. Durex offers Avanti condoms with a guarantee of the absence of latex in them. Synthetic products, such as latex paint, do not contain natural rubber.
Symptoms of latex allergy
Symptoms can be both instant reactions to IgE antibodies and delayed allergic reactions with the appearance of contact eczema.
The most common symptoms of latex allergy are eczema changes on the skin in the form of swelling, redness, wound formation and itching. There may also be the formation of watery blisters and cracking of the skin. Quite common are respiratory tract disorders, such as irritation of the mucous membrane of the nose and eyes, as well as asthma attacks.
Latex cross-reacts with proteins contained in exotic fruits, and thus can provoke oral allergic syndrome (itching and swelling in the mouth, nose, throat and lips). The most dangerous in this regard are banana, avocado and kiwi, but papaya, figs, potatoes, tomatoes and chestnuts can cause a cross-reaction. From 30 to 80% of latex allergy sufferers receive symptoms when eating these products. In addition, latex can cross-react with the juices of trees and leaves, as well as dust from ficus Benjamin. A cross-reaction occurs between plant proteins contained in latex and food. In persons with hypersensitivity, latex can cause life-threatening reactions (anaphylactic shock).
Who can be allergic to latex?
Just a few years ago, this type of allergy was observed only in representatives of the indigenous population of some countries (for example, Indonesia) who collected natural wood latex.
Later, allergies began to be observed in children who underwent surgical operations and, accordingly, contact with latex gloves of a doctor. The detection of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) led to a sharp increase in the use of rubber gloves, which in turn caused an increase in the number of latex allergy sufferers, especially among medical professionals. The prevalence of this type of allergy among health care workers is about 7%. It is assumed that this indicator will grow due to the increasing use of rubber gloves in this professional group observed in the last 10-15 years. Cleaning staff and dentists are also at risk.
Latex Allergy Treatment
After the diagnosis of latex allergy is established, it is necessary to completely exclude close contact with this material. Persons suffering from cross-reactions to food should also avoid contact with latex.
The onset of allergic (anaphylactic) shock is most often accompanied by the usual allergic symptoms for the patient. They can occur gradually or suddenly and are life-threatening. Persons suffering from such a pronounced allergy that there is a risk of anaphylactic shock, should carry a syringe with epinephrine (EpiPen) for immediate injection in case of symptoms. It is necessary to call an ambulance immediately. Antiallergic vaccination (hypersensitivity) is not intended for the treatment of latex allergy.
How to make a diagnosis?
Examination in case of suspected latex allergy is primarily carried out by a dermatologist or pediatrician. It will be useful to have a detailed medical history. Actual testing methods may be a Pirke test or applying a piece of latex to the forearm to check the skin reaction. In addition to skin tests, a blood test for immunoglobulin (IgE) can provide useful information.
Latex allergy is an incurable disease, and you can only fight with its symptoms. The best thing is to try to avoid developing allergies. Many latex products can be replaced with vinyl products. Labeling “hypoallergenic” on some products does not mean that the content of latex allergens in them is lower than in products without such labeling.
Rubber gloves should be used without talcum powder, with a low content of allergens/soluble proteins, rubber additives and endotoxins. Practice shows that the transition to the use of such gloves leads to a decrease in the number of cases of allergy and gives allergy sufferers with mild symptoms the opportunity to continue working at the same workplace. It also matters for patients. Manufacturers should be required to supply such gloves with documentation of compliance with established standards.