Allergies occur when an individual’s immune system attacks the body after misidentifying a particular substance as harmful.
Today, it’s estimated that over 50 million people in the United States experience all kinds of allergies every year. In fact, they’re said to be the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the country.
Latex allergies, in particular, are relatively rare and less than 1% of Americans suffer from them.
Here, the body demonstrates an immune reaction towards natural rubber latex, a substance that’s commonly used to manufacture household items like gloves, chewing gum, shoe soles, and party balloons. The reaction may occur when a person either comes into physical contact with latex or if they breathe in latex particles.
While almost anyone can develop a latex allergy, some may be more prone to getting it than others. In this post, we take a deeper look into this type of allergy and how it can be diagnosed and prevented.
Types of latex allergies
Up to now, two types of reactions to natural rubber latex have been detected. These are:
IgE-mediated latex allergy (type I)
People with a type l allergy are sensitive to a protein found in rubber trees. Coming into contact with this protein can cause the immune system to produce IgE antibodies, which leads to an allergic reaction that may be life-threatening.
Cell-mediated contact dermatitis (type IV)
This type of allergy causes mostly skin-related reactions, like blisters. Type IV allergic reactions may not be life-threatening but if not treated properly, they can elevate to type I reactions.
Symptoms of this allergy aren’t very different from the symptoms of other, more common allergies. These include:
- Inflamed skin
- Runny noses and sneezing
- Breathing problems
These reactions can range from mild to severe, depending on each person’s sensitivity. Severe symptoms include anaphylactic shock.
To receive an accurate diagnosis, you may need to consult an allergy specialist if you experience the typical symptoms of an allergy to natural latex. To do so, you will need to provide a record of your medical history, a list of other allergies you may have, and your family’s history of allergies, if applicable.
To confirm that the allergy may be related to latex, the doctor might carry out a skin prick test. This test involves scratching a tiny amount of latex into the skin to determine if there is any reaction.
If you are allergic to latex, your skin may demonstrate a reaction 15 minutes or more after the skin prick.
Treatment and prevention
For the most part, the best way to prevent this allergy is to avoid coming into contact with natural latex. This often means avoiding the use of latex gloves, chewing gum, or using any products that contain this substance.
If triggered, symptoms of the allergy may be treated with antihistamines such as diphenhydramine. Some doctors may even prescribe you a shot of epinephrine that you can take with you and use in the event you experience a severe reaction.
As an added precaution, you may have to purchase a medical bracelet that lists your allergies, which is highly useful if you’re travelling to distant locations, especially if you’re alone.
As mentioned before, certain individuals are more likely to develop this allergy compared to others. This category includes:
Spina bifida patients
Spina bifida is a developmental condition that affects the spine. It’s been observed that individuals with this condition may be more likely to develop an allergy to latex. It’s believed that this could be because they undergo multiple medical procedures from a very young age that leads to them being exposed, excessively, to latex from surgical gloves, which leads to reactions to latex.
Healthcare workers constantly use latex gloves throughout their career and this may put them at risk of developing this allergy.
People with a family history of the allergy
Like many other allergies, an allergy to latex may be inherited from your family. Individuals from families who have a history of this allergy may be at risk of developing it at some point in their lives.
Manage your latex allergy with the support of medical professionals
An allergy to latex may not always be life-threatening but it can make certain parts of everyday life more challenging. It may affect your job and can have an effect on your health if not managed properly.
Fortunately today, you can maintain your wellbeing and avoid allergic reactions through expert-led immunotherapy treatment. Discover how it may help you lead a potentially safer and healthier life today.