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Latex Allergy: Signs, Causes and Management

General

Natural rubber latex is an essential component of about 40,000 modern products. Very often it is used as a barrier material, which is aimed at protecting people from contact with certain harmful substances. Medical rubber gloves are the most vivid example of this fact. However, along with protection, it was found out to be the cause of millions of allergic reactions, some of which were quite dangerous and even life-threatening.

Healthcare professionals are among the people who are frequently exposed to latex products (latex gloves and lots of medical devices). Consequently, they and those people who participate in the latex manufacturing process are at the greatest risk of developing an allergy to this natural material. Moreover, it is also widely used in different other fields and spheres of modern life; thus, more and more people have to come in contact with it to later find themselves out to be sensitive to products containing this substance.

About Latex

Latex is a milky fluid obtained from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) found in Southeast Asia and Africa. Proteins in the natural rubber latex are the components, which cause allergic reaction in people. By the way, a lot of fruits and vegetables contain proteins similar to that in the rubber tree, so they may also be the triggers of one’s allergy. The most common foods in this respect are bananas, avocados, chestnuts, and kiwis.

Cause of Latex Allergy

The cause of the allergy to latex is an individual sensitivity of a person’s immune system to this substance, which is perceived by this defensive means as a dangerous invader. As one is exposed to latex for the first time, his immune system starts to produce antibodies to it, and the second time a person comes in contact with latex these antibodies, called immunoglobulin type E, become activated to cause an allergic reaction. 

Symptoms of Latex Allergy

As a result, histamine is released in the body and that is manifested through the number of symptoms as sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, itchy and watery eyes, runny and stuffy nose, rash, and tightness in the breast. Highly sensitive people may develop anaphylactic shock, which always requires immediate medicinal help. Its signs are confusion, dizziness, fainting, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting.

Types of Reactions to Latex

Some people may experience irritant contact dermatitis wearing latex gloves. However, dry, cracked, and red skin in this case is not a result of the allergy to latex - this may occur due to scratching or rubbing the hands under the gloves, sweating, or not washing off the detergents properly prior to wearing rubber gloves.

Another type of reaction to latex is called allergic contact dermatitis, which is caused mainly by the chemicals added to latex during its processing. This allergy occurs within 12-24 hours after exposure to these substances.

Thus, these types of reactions are not to be mixed with the real, actual allergy to latex, which occurs immediately after contact with latex and involves an immune response of the body and the release of histamine.

Treatment

Allergy treatment most general and efficacious rule is to avoid the trigger of the symptoms. So, avoiding latex may be the most convenient and effective option in the fight against the disease.

At the same time, oral antihistamines (OTC or prescription) and creams may be used to relieve the symptoms. Note that some antihistamines may cause sleepiness, thus they should be used with caution. Some of them start working practically immediately; others need more time to act effectively.

Steroids are also effective drugs to suppress allergy signs, but they should be taken only for a short period of time (not longer than 5-7 days).

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Bronchodilators may be used to eliminate the spasm in case of difficult breathing. However, one should be aware of how to use an inhaler properly for the drug to work effectively.

In the sever cases of latex allergy injections of epinephrine may be necessary. Allergy victims may be taught to make injections by themselves.

Conclusion

Although latex allergy is frequent nowadays, it is nevertheless possible to avoid it by using synthetic rubber products, which contain no natural proteins and are thus safe for the latex allergy sufferers. One should only remember that inhaling latex particles is also possible, for example, when somebody takes off latex gloves coated with cornstarch powder. Latex proteins in this case stick to cornstarch and may remain in the air for about half and hour posing danger to sensitive people.

 
Ivanna


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