Latex allergy is an allergic reaction to latex products, such as condoms, rubber gloves, and materials that include latex. We’re not sure why latex allergy has increased, but it’s likely due to increased usage. The more you are exposed to latex, the higher your chance of becoming allergic. This means nurses, doctors, dentists and paramedics or even patients who have worn gloves a lot are often sufferers. Those allergic to latex often have other allergies, for example to dust or pollen.

Symptoms of latex sensitivity or allergy

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Scaley skin
  • Weeping sores
  • Rough, dry skin

What is latex?
Contrary to what you might believe, latex is actually the sap of a tree – the Hevea brasiliensis tree – but with stabilisers and preservatives added so it lasts a longer time. Chemicals are added to make it elastic and stable, strong and durable. The gloves are covered in cornstarch to stop the items from rubbing together (like gloves, for easy use), and these cornstarch particles may becoming airborne with latex attached, causing an airborne allergen.

What contains latex?

  • Condoms
  • Diaphragms
  • Gloves
  • Bandages
  • Baby bottle teats
  • Baby dummies
  • Rubber bands
  • Elastic bands in clothing
  • Rubber toys
  • Rubber grips
  • Medical equipment
  • Balloons

Synthetic rubber is does not contain any latex allergens and is unlikely to cause a reaction.

Allergic reactions to latex
The strongest allergic reactions to latex are the most dangerous because they can cause anaphylaxis – swollen lips, face or tongue which can impede breathing, causing death without intervention. Those who develop a sensitivity over time may find that the contact causes itching, hives, and swelling. This might occur after using a condom or blowing up a balloon.

A reaction can also occur if breathing in the latex particles, causing hayfever or asthma. An allergic reaction may take up to 48 hours to develop. People with sensitivities to latex may also be sensitive to certain foods like banana, avocado, kiwifruit, passionfruit, plums, strawberries and tomatoes.

Irritant and allergic contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common outcome for a person sensitive to latex. This isn’t a true allergic reaction as the immune system is not involved, but the skin is. Allergic contact dermatitis by contrast is an immune-system response to latex, but looks very similar to irritant dermatitis. These forms of dermatitis can be uncomfortable, but are not dangerous.

Treatment
Treatment revolves firstly around prevention – avoid all latex, find alternatives for condoms and gloves where necessary, and if you suffer anaphylaxis, wear an allergy bracelet. Advise your medical practitioners. Avoid food suppliers who use latex gloves. Use latex-free gloves, and if you work around latex, take precautions.

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