Latex Allergy? Beware Poinsettias

Christmas Flower Related to Rubber Tree

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 24, 2003 -- If you have a latex allergy, be careful around poinsettia plants. These popular Christmas plants contain a compound similar to that found in rubber latex -- and can cause a severe allergic reaction.

A new study presented recently at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in New Orleans shows evidence of this risk.

Latex allergy is a reaction to substances in natural latex used to make medical products such as rubber gloves, condoms, and other medical devices. Non-medical devices also contain latex, such as erasers, pacifiers, and balloons. After touching or inhaling the irritant, some people have a skin rash, while others have wheezing. In severe reactions, there are more serious problems like chest pain, drops in blood pressure, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

With the ornamental poinsettia plant, the problem lies in its family tree. In fact, poinsettia is part of the same plant family as natural rubber latex, which is obtained from the Brazilian rubber tree, writes lead researcher Peter M. Ranta, MD, of the Medical College of Georgia.

In their study, they found that two proteins found in poinsettias correspond to proteins also found in natural latex.

By mixing blood of latex-sensitive subjects with extracts of the poinsettia plant, 40% of latex-sensitive blood samples showed an allergic reaction, reports Ranta.

Bottom-line message: Be cautious around poinsettia plants if you have a latex allergy.

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SOURCES: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Latex Allergy."
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