Latex Allergy

H. Farhadian, M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.A.A.A.I.
Copyright© 2019, H. Farhadian, MD. All rights reserved.

Since 1988 and the public awareness of AIDS (HIV), the use of latex gloves and other latex products has been on the rise. This has resulted in an increase in the number of adverse reactions resulted from latex consumption.

Latex is a natural product obtained from a tree called Hevea-brasiliensis found in Africa and Southeast Asia. This product should not be mistaken with other synthetic products and plastic which is originated from butyl and petroleum products. The most common latex products are gloves (disposable and non disposable), balloons, condoms and tires. Medical latex products include surgical gloves, catheters IV tubing, surgical tapes, and Band-Aids. Contact, touching, or even inhalation of any of these products may cause reactions that could be manifested in several different ways.

Most common symptoms of contact allergy from latex gloves include dryness, itching, crusting, and oozing of the skin of the hands. In ladies, these conditions are called "housewife dermatitis" or " hand dermatitis". This is not a dangerous reaction of latex, however, rather it is a chronic and bothersome disease and can be treated with diligent and appropriate methods.

Interestingly, inhalation of latex or latex powder could be the source of symptoms, such as itchy and red eyes, runny nose, sneezing and even sneezing. These symptoms usually appear in the nurses and health care professionals as a result of using disposable gloves.

Sometimes the reaction to latex is severe and even life threatening. Symptoms may begin with respiratory manifestations as mentioned above. However, other complications, such as generalized hives, swelling of the whole body, anaphylactic reaction and even death may follow.

There have been cases reported that while a child was playing with a balloon, all of a sudden, developed respiratory distress, and cyanosis followed by shock. Also, cases of anaphylaxis due to the use of condoms or contact of surgical gloves with the patient during the surgery have been reported.

Since 1988, one thousand cases of death caused by latex allergy have been reported to the FDA. Ironically, patients who are allergic to latex have shown to be more sensitive to some tropical fruits (i.e., banana, avocado and kiwi), and stone fruits (i.e. peach, apricot, and nectarine), and nuts (i.e., peanut chestnut and hazelnut).

The diagnosis, prevention and treatment of latex allergy is fairly simple and should be handled under the care of an expert specialist.