Latex allergy is a reaction to certain proteins found in natural rubber latex, a product manufactured from a milky fluid that comes from the rubber tree. If you have a latex allergy, your body mistakes latex for a harmful substance.
Latex allergy may cause allergic reactions ranging from sneezing or a runny nose to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Your doctor may determine if you have a latex allergy or if you're at risk of developing a latex allergy.
Understanding latex allergy and becoming familiar with common sources of latex can help you prevent your own allergic reactions or those of someone else.
If you're allergic to latex, you're likely to react after being in contact with the latex in rubber gloves or by inhaling airborne latex particles, which can be released when latex gloves are removed. Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the degree of your sensitivity and to the amount of latex allergen to which you're exposed. Your reaction can worsen with repeated exposure to latex.
Anaphylactic shock symptoms
When to see a doctor
If you have less severe reactions after exposure to latex, talk to your doctor. If possible, see your doctor when you're having a reaction, which will aid in making a diagnosis. Also, talk to your doctor if you're in a high-risk category, such as having multiple surgeries.
In a latex allergy, your immune system identifies latex as a harmful substance. Your immune system triggers certain cells to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight the latex component (the allergen). The next time you come in contact with latex, the IgE antibodies sense it and signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream. The more exposure you have, the more your immune system is likely to respond to latex (sensitization).
These chemicals cause a range of allergic signs and symptoms. Histamine is partly responsible for most allergic responses.
Latex sensitivity can occur in these ways:
True latex allergy, known as hypersensitivity immune system response, occurs when your immune system reacts to proteins found in natural rubber latex. Signs and symptoms develop immediately after contact.
However, it's also possible to have other reactions to latex, which aren't always allergies to the latex itself. They include:
Types of latex
Not all latex products are made from natural sources. Products containing man-made (synthetic) latex, such as latex paint, are unlikely to cause a reaction because they don't contain the natural substance.
Latex products are also found in health care settings. However, because of the problem of latex allergy, many health care facilities use nonlatex gloves. Other medical products that may contain latex or rubber include:
Irritant contact dermatitis (A) produces red, dry itchy patches usually on the hands, fingers and face. Common irritants include soap, detergents and skin-cleaning products. Allergic contact ...
It isn't clear why some people develop allergies while others don't. However, certain people are at greater risk of developing a latex allergy:
Connection between food allergy and latex allergy
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to an allergist, a doctor who specializes in allergies.
To be sure you get the information you need, it's good to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions before your appointment will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. List your questions from most important to least important. For latex allergy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask for clarification of anything you don't understand.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will want to know your history of latex allergy experiences, and other allergy signs and symptoms. Your doctor may conduct a physical examination to identify or exclude other medical problems.
He or she may also recommend one or both of the following tests:
Treatments and drugs
Although medications are available to reduce the symptoms of latex allergy, there is no cure for latex allergy. Treatment is based on prevention. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid products that contain latex.
However, despite your best efforts to avoid latex, you may come into contact with it. If you've had a previous severe allergic reaction to latex, you may need to carry injectable epinephrine with you at all times. If you go into anaphylactic shock, you may need:
For less severe allergies, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines, which you can take after exposure to an allergen to control your reaction and help relieve discomfort. Creams may relieve skin reactions brought on by a latex allergy.
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid latex. Take these measures:
Last Updated: 2009-12-01
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