If you have a latex allergy, you’re in good company. A few million Americans react to latex. Most of us associate latex with rubber gloves, but latex is actually a liquid derived from the tropical rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis (found in Africa and Southeast Asia).
In addition to rubber gloves, latex can be found in the following items:
- Baby bottle nipples and pacifiers
- Underwear waistbands
- Athletic shoes
- Orthodontic rubber bands
- Blood pressure cuffs
- Stethoscope tubes
- Purses and other handbags
Even though latex allergy affects just 1 percent of the country’s population at large, it is much more prevalent among healthcare workers. Roughly 10 percent of people who labor in the medical industry report having allergic reactions to latex. This increased incidence is due to the fact that repeated exposure to allergens can actually drive up the risk for allergic reactions. Thus, if you work in a hospital and wear rubber gloves to protect your hands all day, your chance of developing latex allergies will be much higher than the average American’s.
People who have had repeated surgeries, help produce rubber for a living, or have a urethral catheter with rubber components also have a higher incidence of latex allergies.
A Link to Food Allergy
Interestingly, people with food allergies also have an increased chance of developing latex allergy. This is because the proteins in fruits, vegetables, and nuts have a chemical composition that is similar to latex proteins. Thus, if your body perceives the proteins in certain types of fresh produce as threats and reacts with irritating allergy symptoms, you may expect the same type of reaction when you are exposed to latex. People who receive treatment for food allergies may also experience an improvement in their latex allergies.
Because latex is harmless, the body should just ignore it. When the immune system is prone to allergies, however, it overreacts to stimuli, including latex. Thus, your body will perceive the latex proteins as a massive threat and attempt to fight them off by releasing histamine and other chemicals into the body. This won’t, of course, affect the latex proteins in any way. However, it will cause you to experience a number of symptoms, including a swollen and itchy rash, runny or stuffed-up nose, head pain, swollen and itchy eyes, a sore throat, abdominal cramps, wheezing, asthma, and even full-blown anaphylaxis (in extreme cases).
Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you have a latex allergy. Your doctor can refer you out for testing or order an allergy testing kit and test you in-house. If your physician detects other allergies as well, they can prescribe allergy shots for environmental allergies. For food allergy treatment, they can refer you to a sublingual immunotherapy clinic.
Managing Latex Allergies
If you react to latex, avoid the allergen by choosing vinyl or nitrile gloves and other latex-free products. Always tell your dentist and doctor about your latex allergies when you go in for check-ups or procedures. If you are exposed to latex, treat your symptoms with anti-inflammatory medications. And if you experience serious reactions, such as anaphylaxis, in reaction to latex, carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.