Latex is a natural substance made of the milky sap of the rubber tree. On some occasions, when an individual is exposed to latex, there are bodily reactions to the said substance, as shown by several symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
Usually, natural and spontaneous defenses are put up when bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms enter the human body. This instinctive defense reaction is brought about by the immune system, which immediately releases antibodies against any perceived threats or enemies.
Unfortunately, to some individuals, latex is wrongly perceived as a threat to their bodies. Their immune systems react inappropriately and unnecessarily to it. Any substance which causes and provokes bodily reactions is known as an allergen, and the response is called an allergy. Thus, latex, in some instances, serves as an allergen, causing allergies to individuals working in healthcare and hospital settings and exposed to products containing latex.
When there is an allergic reaction, a substance known as histamine is released in the human body, and it causes redness, itchiness, and swelling in the skin. In addition, symptoms such as hives, rashes, runny noses, and watery and swollen eyes are observed. Worse, it could cause breathing difficulties and a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. There could be a sudden drop in blood pressure, increased pulse rate, and tissue swelling in anaphylaxis. If not managed properly and immediately, the afflicted individual may die from it.
The diagnosis of latex allergy is based mainly on the history of exposure to the said substance. If an individual is showing allergy symptoms, then the medical doctor attending to him would ask about the circumstances of exposure to latex. If indeed he was exposed, then the clinical history would reveal that latex allergy symptoms were shown immediately after the exposure. For this reason, the medical doctor must be aware of household and company products containing latex.
Suppose an individual has a history of allergy-related diseases, such as asthma, hay fever, and eczema. In that case, he is more prone to suffer from latex allergy. Foods such as avocado, bananas, kiwi, pineapples, tomatoes, and chestnuts, could cause allergies in some individuals. If you have a history of allergy to one or more of these foods, you are prone to suffer from latex allergy.
In addition to the clinical history, some tests could be done to confirm and find out if you are really allergic to latex. Firstly, the RAST test can be resorted to. This test measures the amount of latex-associated IgE antibodies in your blood. If you are allergic to latex, then the blood concentration of this type of antibody will increase. Secondly, skin testing can be done. A tiny amount of latex will be applied to your skin. If you develop reddening and elevation of the skin applied with latex, you are allergic to it. Thirdly, you can undergo the so-called challenge test. This is done this way. If you have been exhibiting an allergy to latex, then you will be asked to stay away from the site of exposure. After getting well and free from the symptoms of latex allergy, then you will be asked to return to the area of exposure. If you again show the signs of latex allergy, then indeed, you are sensitive to it.
The best way to prevent having any form of allergic reaction is to avoid being exposed to the allergen—in this case, to latex. Below are possible ways of avoiding having latex allergy:
- Avoid using gloves that are made of latex for dishwashing and other household chores,
- Refrain from blowing up balloons,
- Avoid using rubber bands and condoms made of latex,
- If you are confined in a hospital or medical clinic, inform your healthcare providers that you are allergic to latex so that they would not use latex-containing devices or medications. For example, the IV set without latex rubber can be used for infusion. Usually, there will be a label of latex or latex-free on the packing.
- If you are a healthcare provider and allergic to latex, avoid using those devices with latex. If it is tough for you to avoid them altogether, you should use less allergenic or less irritating ones.
As stated in the preceding, the primary management of latex allergy is to avoid having exposure to, or contact with, the substance. There are times when repeated exposures will increase the sensitivity of previously afflicted individuals to latex. Thus, if you are sensitive to latex, you may request for re-assignment in your work, or you may need to change your occupations.
If, finally, you need to take medications for your allergy, the severity of your condition needs to be assessed by a medical doctor before deciding which drug you will take. If your reaction is mild, you may take antihistamine preparations. If the antihistamine does not work, your medical doctor may shift you to a corticosteroid drug which is a more powerful anti-inflammatory agent. It is available in tablets, nasal or bronchial sprays, or topical creams. Although corticosteroid is very effective, it has several side effects: using it in high doses or for a long time is not advised.
As previously mentioned, anaphylaxis is the worst consequence of latex allergy. This stage of the allergy is life-threatening. Management needs to be fast and accurate because lowering blood pressure and breathing difficulty may occur. If the injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) is not done immediately, the patient may die.
Products containing latex
Several healthcare and consumer products contain and use latex as one of their parts. For one, the gasket of syringes, the rubber tubes of the intravenous (IV) sets, surgical and examination gloves, anesthetic tubing, ventilation bags, and respiratory tubing contain latex. Some consumer products also contain latex, such as balloons, condoms, diaphragms, rubber gloves, soles of tennis shoes, nipples for baby bottles, pacifiers, toys, rubber hoses, and tires.
Latex has some physical and commercial properties, making it an ideal part of the healthcare mentioned above and consumer products. It is a flexible, elastic, and relatively inexpensive material. In addition, it serves as an effective barrier for infectious microorganisms. Thus, it is used as part of the hospital and medical items. The versatility of latex is so unique that seven million metric tons of it are used in manufacturing each year.