Latex Allergy & Sensitivity

Latex sensitivity is an immunologic response to either the protein in the latex or the chemicals used in the production of latex products. The water soluble protein is found in the milky sap obtained from the “Hevea brasiliensis” rubber tree. This sap is used in such products as rubber gloves, condoms, balloons, rubber bands, urinal bags, glue for reclosable envelopes (to name a few).

There are three categories of allergic reactions to latex:

  • Type I is the least common. It is an immediate reaction response similar to the severe reaction a person can have to a bee sting (symptoms can include flushing, itching, swelling, nausea, vomiting and nasal congestion). This life threatening type of reaction may affect the person wearing latex gloves or the person being examined.
  • Type IV is the second and most common type. It is a delayed reaction at a cellular level. It is usually a response to the chemicals used in the manufacturing process. This reaction is similar to that of poison oak or poison ivy (symptoms can include debilitating rashes, itching and cracking of the hands or body parts in contact with the rubber).
  • The third and final category is
  • Irritant Contact Dermatitis. Unlike the immediate and delayed responses previously discussed, it is not an allergic type involving the immune system. The chemicals used in the production of the latex products, such as powder in the latex gloves, can produce symptoms very similar to that of the delayed reaction. This should not, however, be confused with an allergic response. Manufacturers must work closely with the consumers to minimize the amounts of irritating additives used in their products.

After appropriate testing has shown a positive allergic response to latex, the offending allergen should be totally eliminated from your environment.

In November, 1992, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control met with latex manufacturers in Washington in an effort to begin to identify which of the 50 or 60 different proteins in latex may provoke the allergic response, and to determine how the manufacturing process might be altered to minimize risk to consumers.

In the meantime, there are alternatives. “Sensicare” synthetic latex gloves are as durable as latex, but much more expensive. “Tactylon”, a non-latex, non-vinyl material that is said to be as elastic as latex, is also more costly. “Nitrile” gloves are non-latex and non-vinyl gloves, which are much more affordable.

Note: The following foods cross-react with latex: Banana, avocado, chestnut and kiwi. This means that if you are allergic to one, you are at great risk of being allergic to the others.