Latex allergies have serious consequences for health care and industrial workers as well as patients. Individuals experience a range of reactions from coming into contact with latex, including contact dermatitis and anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening. These reactions stem from the natural rubber latex proteins. Although latex gloves provide the best fit and feel, they are not the right choice for those with latex sensitivities. It’s crucial for people who come into contact with latex to understand the symptoms of a reaction.
What are latex allergies?
An immediate reaction after contact with latex is an indication of an allergy. This type of response to latex triggers the immune system, causing sneezing, a runny nose, coughing or wheezing and an itchy throat or eyes. Repeated exposure may cause people with only minor reactions to progress to anaphylaxis over time.
This reaction is triggered by latex proteins, which come from natural rubber. Many latex gloves are powdered, and the food-grade cornstarch powder transfers the proteins to the skin. The powder also spreads proteins to the eyes and throat.
"Health care workers are at an increased risk for latex sensitivity as latex is the most common glove used in that industry."
Employees who work with latex products frequently may develop allergic reactions. This is especially common in the health care sector and rubber factories. People who have had 10 or more surgeries, food allergies or a family history of allergies are at a heightened risk.
While some people are born with latex allergies, many individuals have sensitivities that become more severe with repeated exposure. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 50 percent of people with latex allergy have a history of another type of allergy.
What are the symptoms of a reaction?
One of the most common reactions to latex is contact dermatitis, which is irritation or dryness of the skin. Delayed contact dermatitis often appears 12 to 36 hours after using a latex product, and the symptoms include red, scaly or itchy skin. Anyone who uses latex gloves may experience this reaction, but it does not mean they are allergic. Because there is a wide range of reactions to latex and they may get more severe over time, it’s important to check with a doctor or allergist to determine the true cause of a reaction.
Anaphylaxis is life-threatening because the reaction isn’t limited to one part of the body. People may experience difficulty breathing, red rashes, itchiness, swollen throat, chest tightness and trouble swallowing. This type of reaction may even cause someone to lose consciousness. Anaphylaxis typically occurs between 5-30 minutes of coming into contact with an allergen. While only 1 percent of the global population experiences anaphylaxis, latex is a common cause.
When reactions aren’t latex allergies
Contact dermatitis has multiple causes and not all are related to allergies. For example, medical professionals wash their hands frequently, leading to dryness. In addition, gloves trap soap, moisture or lotion against the skin, which sometimes causes irritation, especially when people don’t have the right glove size. Moreover, contact dermatitis sometimes happens because of incomplete hand drying or the friction of the glove powder rubbing against the skin.
Delayed hypersensitivity is often caused by the chemicals used to manufacture the gloves rather than the latex proteins. Antioxidants, emulsifiers, stabilizers and stiffeners cause severe contact dermatitis within two days after exposure for some people, and the reaction spreads to other areas such as the face in some cases. People with immediate hypersensitivity should avoid all exposure to latex in hopes of preventing a latex allergy.
Chronic contact dermatitis and delayed hypersensitivity are usually limited to the area of contact, but individuals with recurring reactions should see a doctor, dermatologist or allergist to confirm. Chronic contact dermatitis may be indicative of a different allergy.
The global perspective
As countries develop, glove usage is becoming more common in health systems around the world. The primary type of glove is latex, and allergies are occurring more frequently because of repeated exposure. The U.S. and other developed nations have started to use alternatives to latex, and other countries may need to follow suit.
Viable latex alternatives
AMMEX Corporation offers a full line of latex and synthetic exam-grade gloves to suit whatever needs you have. AMMEX Nitrile Exam Gloves are an excellent alternative to latex and have many benefits, such as greater tear resistance. Additionally, AMMEX Vinyl Exam Gloves are a cost-effective alternative to latex.