Latex allergies refer to the variety of reactions that may occur after short or longterm exposure to latex. The term latex allergy tends to be more common, but both terms may be slightly inaccurate. Some reactions to latex aren’t caused by allergic response but may be caused by sensitivity to this product, which is derived from fluid collected from the rubber tree.
The different forms of latex allergies, which tend to vary in severity, mean symptoms of this allergy will not always be the same. In the non-allergic type of latex reaction, called irritant contact dermatitis, the main symptoms are rash, itching, scaling or burning. This is most often noted among people who wear rubber gloves for long periods of time at work.
Irritant contact dermatitis potentially indicates that true latex allergies might develop in the future. However, most often the condition is resolved by switching to non-latex gloves, like those made of vinyl or nitrile. Together with treatments to address the skin condition, which may be oral and/or topical, the skin irritation may quickly resolve once cause is identified. There are many people with this reaction who may never go on to develop true latex allergies and may not need to take any precautions in the future beyond avoiding wearing latex gloves.
Allergic contact dermatitis is one of the latex allergies that is more severe and tends to occur a day to two days after exposure to latex, somewhat like exposure to poison oak or ivy. It can cause a rash in various areas on the body which may develop into blisters. This is a true allergic response to latex and avoiding the substance in the future is highly recommended. Sometimes this rash isn’t an allergic reaction to latex but may be instead a reaction to the chemicals used in producing it. People who have experienced this reaction should have an allergy test to evaluate if a true allergy to latex exists.
Some people will immediately develop a rash, blisters, itching or discomfort when exposed to latex, instead of having a delayed reaction. Sneezing and asthma symptoms can also be present. This is called hypersensitivity immune response and it is also considered one of the true latex allergies. Those with this immediate response to latex need to avoid exposure to it the future, though the allergy may never be more than symptoms similar to hay fever, asthma, and rash.
The most severe of the latex allergies causes an anaphylactic shock reaction, which though rare, is extremely dangerous. People who have shown signs of any form of latex allergy in the past should confirm diagnosis with a doctor or allergist, and are advised to wear a medic alert bracelet. Many doctors advise people who have had severe reactions to latex to carry epinephrine too, in case accidental exposure triggers another episode of anaphylactic shock.
There are some people who are more prone to developing latex allergies than others. Children with spina bifida are at higher risk, as are people who have had multiple surgeries. Those who use latex gloves on a regular basis, like healthcare workers, may develop allergy due to fairly constant exposure. Sometimes those with food allergies are more inclined to be allergic to latex too.
Though many with allergy or sensitivity to latex are able to live very normal lives with few restrictions, those with severe reactions need to try not to have further exposure to it. The usefulness of latex means it’s very easy to find it in lots of common things. Those at risk for or who have already developed severe reactions to latex in the past should work with their doctors to learn which everyday items typically include it so that these can be avoided.