Due to its flexibility and durability, latex is a common product or product component in many industries worldwide. Latex is also commonly referred to as “rubber”, as it is the main component of natural rubber.
Unfortunately, many people who experience prolonged exposure to latex, such as health care professionals and spina bifida patients, can develop an allergy to latex. Latex can cause sensitivity in multiple ways, including absorption through the skin, inhalation of powder particles from powdered latex gloves or by direct insertion into the body by surgical procedures.
Categories of Allergic Reaction to Latex
Reactions to latex can be classified into three different categories.
- Immediate Latex Protein Allergies
Although uncommon, immediate latex protein allergies are the most serious of latex allergies and can be life threatening. Symptoms include asthma, conjunctivitis, rhinosinusitis, hives, and anaphylaxis.
- Contact Dermatitis
The second type of allergic reaction is allergic contact dermatitis. It is a delayed reaction that usually results in red patches on the skin. Contact dermatitis occurs in sensitive individuals 48-72 hours after re-exposure. The patches of irritated skin are usually confined to the area of exposure, but can spread.
- Irritant Contact Dermatitis
The third and most common type of reaction is Irritant Contact Dermatitis. Dry, itchy patches of red, irritated skin occur where the skin was exposed to latex.
Related Fruit Allergies
Nearly 50% of individuals who are sensitive to latex can also develop sensitivity to one or more types of fruit, due to the cross-reactions between latex proteins and some food proteins.
Fruits with the most clinical cross reactivity are:
- Stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries).
Latex allergies can be diagnosed by both skin and blood tests.
Managing Latex Allergy
The most common way to manage the allergy is to avoid skin and mucous membrane contact with latex. Additionally, latex products can often be replaced with alternative non-latex products.