Latex allergy is a medical term encompassing a range of allergic reactions to natural rubber latex.
Type 1, the most serious and rare form, is an immediate and life-threatening reaction, not unlike the severe reaction some people have to bee stings. Such reactions account for a significant proportion of perioperative anaphylactic reaction, especially in children with myelomeningocle.
Type IV is the common type; involving delayed minor rashes, itching, and sometimes cracking of the skin.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis is caused by the chemicals used in the production process, and the talc-like powder coatings (zinc oxide, etc) used with latex. Some people who are allergic to latex are also allergic to clothes, shoes and other things that contain latex - for example elastic bands, rubber gloves, condoms, pacifiers and baby-bottle nipples, balloons, cars and clothing containing elastane.
Those at greatest risk
- Children with myelomeningocle. Between 40% to 100% will have a reaction.
- Industrial rubber workers, exposed for long periods to high amounts of latex. About 10% have an allergic reaction.
- Healthcare workers. Given the ubiquitous use of latex products in health care settings, management of latex allergy presents significant health organizational problems. Latex allergies are becoming more common among doctors, as they have regular and prolonged exposure to latex, mostly examination gloves. Between about 4% to 15% of healthcare workers have a reaction, although this is usually Irritant Contact Dermatitis, rather than an allergy.
- People who have had multiple surgical procedures, especially in childhood.
Estimates of latex sensitivity in the general population range from 0.8% to 6.5%, although not all will ever develop a noticeable allergic reaction. If you happily chewed on elastic bands as a child, and you have no problem wearing soft rubber washing-up gloves, there should be no need to worry. However, there is evidence that the more you are exposed to latex, the more allergic you may become. If you have only a minor latex allergy, you should minimize your exposure to latex so that you do not risk becoming more sensitive.
Latex and foods
A latex allergy can also cause further reactions, to food items from the latex plant groups - banana, avocado, chestnut and kiwi. It can also cause reactions from foods touched by latex products in the most severe cases. There are some known cases of latex allergies being provoked from genetically modified foods such as tomatoes with latex proteins.
It is also worth noting that some highly latex allergic individuals have had allergic reactions to foods that were handled/prepared by people wearing latex gloves.
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