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Latex is a natural product which comes from the light milky fluid that is extracted from the rubber tree. This milky fluid is often modified during the manufacturing process to form a latex mixture. A person can be allergic to the latex or the mixture or both. There are two procedures during the manufacturing process-
One procedure is "dipping," where in a form is dipped into a vat of latex and after drying; the latex product is washed and then peeled from the form. If the latex product is not washed well, as is the case with rushed production, more "free" latex is present on the surface , which is responsible for a great deal of latex allergy. Dipped latex products include gloves, balloons and condoms.
A much less allergic latex product is made by "molding" the latex (for e.g. rubber stoppers and erasers)
The powder of surgical gloves is a significant problem. Latex will easily stick to powder that is commonly used in surgical gloves. When the glove is placed on or taken off the hand the glove is frequently "snapped." This snapping places the powder, with latex sticking to it, into the air. Inhaled latex can be a serious allergic problem.

Complications of Latex Allergies

  • Anaphylaxis
    A rare, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Some of the symptoms are sudden onset, breathing difficulty, edema, swollen mouth, and swollen face.
  • Death
    Some of the common complications are-low blood pressure, blackout, heart attack, heart failure, death.
    Causes of Latex Allergies

Latex sensitivity can occur in these ways:

  • Direct contact - The most common cause of latex allergy is direct contact with latex, such as by wearing latex gloves or by contact with latex-containing products. Once you've had direct contact with latex, you may become sensitized. Sensitization is the process in which the immune system learns to recognize and attack allergens, causing an allergic reaction.
  • Inhalation - Latex allergy can be developed by inhaling latex particles. Latex products, especially gloves, shed large amount of latex particles, which can become airborne. Cornstarch is sometimes used on the inside of gloves to make them easier to put on and take off. The cornstarch absorbs latex proteins, but when the gloves are snapped during application or removal, the latex-laden particles fly into the air. The amount of airborne latex from gloves differs greatly depending on the brand of glove used.

Signs & Symptoms of Latex Allergies
Latex allergy can be mild or severe, with symptoms such as:

  • Itchy, red, watery eyes.
  • Sneezing or runny nose.
  • Coughing
  • Rash or hives
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

Some people who wear latex gloves get bumps, sores, cracks or red, raised areas on their hands. These symptoms usually appear 12 to 36 hours after contact with latex. Changing to non latex gloves, using glove liners, and paying more attention to hand care can help relieve these symptoms.
A person who is highly allergic to latex can also have a life threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylactic shock. Symptoms include:

  • Difficult breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid or weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

Someone having an anaphylactic reaction needs immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis of Latex Allergies
Allergy to latex comes in two different forms:

  • Delayed hypersensitivity-This is usually seen as a skin rash at the site where the latex product contacts the skin. This rash can be quite severe.

To detect delayed hypersensitivity reaction, latex, its preservatives and accelerators are placed on the skin using a standard patch test. Caution is used because an immediate reaction is possible with patch testing.

  • Immediate reaction-This is a more dangerous form of latex allergy. This is also referred to as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can result in seriously low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, and even death. Some patients can experience irritation of the nasal passages similar to hay fever (allergic rhinitis).

To detect an immediate reaction, a blood test and skin test is available. With latex allergy, the blood test is performed first because of the potential severe reaction.

Treatments of Latex Allergies
No current treatment is available to desensitize the person allergic to latex other than avoidance. Treatment of reactions includes antihistamines, adrenalin and steroids.

Prevention of Latex Allergies

  • Avoidance of the provoking agent (allergen), such as latex, is the most effective way to manage any allergy.
  • Latex free synthetic rubber, such as neoprene, nitrile , SBR , Butyl, and Vitron are polymers that are available as alternatives to natural rubber.
  • Patients who are known to be allergic should avoid any product that might contain latex until the latex content is determined by contacting the manufacturer. Even products labeled "safe latex" (which indicates lower proportion of natural latex) can cause latex allergy.
  • Powder less gloves are a great help in preventing airborne latex and have been very helpful in reducing surgical exposure of latex for the health care worker and the patient.

When to seek Medical Advice

  • A patient who describes even the mildest symptoms during a history and physical assessment should be suspected of having a latex allergy.
  • The patient may describe dermatitis, or mild respiratory distress when using latex gloves, inflating a balloon, or coming in contact with latex products.

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