Latex, also known as rubber or natural latex, is derived from the milky sap of the rubber tree, found in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Latex allergy is an allergic reaction to substances in natural latex. Rubber gloves are the main source of allergic reactions, although latex is also used in other products such as condoms and medical devices.
What Causes Latex Allergy?
The exact cause of latex allergy is unknown, but it is thought that repeated exposure to latex and rubber products may induce signs and symptoms in some people.
Up to 12% of health care workers have some form of allergy to latex.
Who Is Affected By Latex Allergy?
Other than health care workers, people at increased risk for developing latex allergy include those who have:
Rubber industry workers and condom users are also at increased risk for developing a latex allergy.
How Do Allergic People Get Exposed to Latex?
Routes of exposure include:
- Through the skin, as occurs when latex gloves are worn
- Through mucous membranes, such as the eyes, mouth, vagina, and rectum
- Through inhalation. Some rubber gloves contain a powder that can be inhaled.
- Through the blood, as occurs when medical devices containing rubber are used.
What Happens During a Latex Reaction?
There are three types of latex reactions:
- Irritant contact dermatitis. The least threatening type of latex reaction, classified as a non-allergenic skin reaction. It usually occurs as a result of repeated exposure to chemicals in latex gloves and can result in dryness, itching, burning, scaling, and lesions of the skin.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. A delayed reaction to additives used in latex processing, which results in the same type of reactions as irritant contact dermatitis (dryness, itching, burning, scaling, and lesions of the skin), but the reaction is more severe, spreads to more parts of the body and lasts longer.
- Immediate allergic reaction (latex hypersensitivity). The most serious reaction to latex. It can show up as rhinitis with hay fever-like symptoms, conjunctivitis (pink eye), cramps, hives, and severe itching. It is rare, but symptoms may progress to include rapid heartbeat, tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, anaphylactic shock, or potentially, death.