How Is Latex Allergy Treated?

After A Dental Cleaning, I Developed Swelling Of My Mouth. I Had Similar Problems While Blowing Up Balloons. What Does This Indicate?

These two events both involved oral contact with latex rubber. Latex allergy is caused by the development of IgE antibodies to certain proteins found in natural rubber latex, a product manufactured from a milky fluid derived from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) found in Africa and Southeast Asia. Products containing dipped latex such as rubber gloves, balloons, rubber bands, and condoms are a much more common source of allergic symptoms. Hard rubber products, such as athletic shoes, tires, and rubber balls, usually do not cause allergies in most people. In addition, products containing man-made latex, such as latex paint, are unlikely to cause a reaction because they do not contain the naturally occurring latex proteins. Latex allergy may first present as hives or swelling on the skin, or it may lead to systemic symptoms, ranging from sneezing to anaphylaxis.

Some patients have an increased risk for developing latex allergy. The highest risk group is children with spina bifida, which is a birth defect that affects the development of the spine. Children with spina bifida are exposed frequently to latex products during surgical procedures and urinary catheterizations, and about half of them become allergic to latex. The group with the second highest prevalence of latex allergy is healthcare workers, whose primary exposure to latex is in the form of latex gloves. Once allergy to latex is suspected, it can be confirmed either with an allergy skin test, which is performed only by specialists in allergy, or a blood test.

How is latex allergy treated? Latex allergy cannot be cured, so it is critical that latex exposure be reduced. Most latex products have suitable alternatives. If you have a job that involves the use of latex rubber products, talk to your employer and discuss reducing the number of latex products you might come in contact with at work. If you must wear gloves at work, choose gloves made without latex. Vinyl gloves work in many situations, but they are not as effective at protecting you from hepatitis or HIV transmission. Many other types of synthetic gloves work just as well as latex gloves for stopping dis-ease transmission, but they can be more expensive. Stay away from areas of your workplace where other workers may be wearing latex gloves. In addition, request that the people you work with use gloves that are not powdered with cornstarch; the powder becomes easily aerosolized and may result in increased airborne exposure to latex.

In addition to avoiding latex at work, you should inform your healthcare professionals, including your physicians and dentists, about your latex allergy. It is also important to wear a medical alert bracelet. Always keep identification (wallet card or medical bracelet) that clearly alerts others of any allergies you have.

Finally, use nonlatex condoms. If you are allergic to latex, consider using polyurethane or lambskin condoms, or use another type of birth control. However, keep in mind that condoms made of these alternative products do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases as well as latex condoms do. Be sure to read the label on the package to see what the condom is made of and whether it is labeled for disease prevention.

George’s comment: Recently, I was hospitalized for a severe bout of prostatitis, and 20 minutes after inserting a urinary catheter, I started to have itching and swelling of my genital region. At first they thought that the prostate infection was spreading to the skin of my penis, but they later decided that I was having an allergic reaction to the latex in the catheter. After they pulled the catheter out and treated me with medications for the allergy, the redness and itching of my skin improved quickly. A blood test showed that I was allergic to latex, and my team of doctors has decided that I will only receive latex-free catheters in the future.