Natural Rubber Latex Allergy

Its impossible to avoid latex. I should know, I have an allergy to latex which was pointe out to me by my dentist. Click here to learn more about this or read an excerpt below.

What is natural rubber latex?
Natural latex rubber is a particular kind of rubber that has been manufactured from the sap of the rubber tree.  Rubber tree sap, or natural rubber latex, is a cloudy white liquid (a chemical Latex) containing a large amount of natural rubber that can be used to manufacture various consumer products.  Table A gives a list of common natural rubber latex products.

Natural rubber latex products cannot be identified visually.  Any rubber-like object could be made of natural rubber latex, or it could be made of synthetic material (including synthetic rubber).  Even things which are not stretchy may have natural rubber latex on them as a paint-like coating.

Latex does not necessarily mean natural rubber latex.  Latex paints and latex caulking are synthetic materials that do not usually contain natural rubber latex.

What is latex allergy?
A latex allergy is an allergy to products made from natural rubber latex.  It is an allergy to proteins originating from the rubber tree and still present in products made from natural rubber latex.

Products made from natural rubber latex usually contain a number of chemicals.  Some people are not allergic to natural rubber latex itself, but chemicals found in manufactured natural latex rubber latex products.  Your allergist will identify which materials affect you.  If you react to chemicals, you may have a rubber allergy and may be referred to a dermatologist for further tests.

Who suffers from latex allergy?
In the last 5 years latex allergy has become more common and its consequences better recognized.  The major use and exposure to natural rubber latex is from gloves used in medical and dental practices.

People most at risk of having or developing a latex allergy are those who have other allergies (such as hay fever) and regularly use natural rubber latex products.  High risk persons who have been identified include people who used natural rubber latex gloves in their everyday occupation.  This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, dental hygenists and dental assistants.  Children with certain medical conditions (such as spina difida) that result in frequent exposure to natural rubber latex products are also commonly latex allergic.

Can my latex allergy get worse?
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.

If you suffer from hay fever symptoms when exposed to latex, continued exposure to latex can cause you to develop asthma.

Can a latex allergy be life-threatening?
While it is uncommon, some latex allergic individuals can suffer a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction when they come in contact with natural rubber latex.

This serious reaction is called anaphylactic shock.  It occurs within minutes of exposure, and is characterized by generalized hives, breathing difficulties and low blood pressure.  Anaphylactic shock may be fatal and must be promptly treated by adrenalin injection.

Anaphylactic shock is most likely to occur during direct tissue contact with natural rubber latex products.  Direct contact occurs when the skin barrier which protects you has been broken, or the contact is across a mucous membrane.  Mucous membrane contact can occur in the mouth (e.g. blowing up a balloon, dental surgery, anesthetic administration), vagina (condom use, vaginal examination), rectum and colon (examination or enema administration), or urethra (catheterization).  Direct tissue contact occurs during surgery because surgeons normally wear natural rubber latex gloves when operating on a patient.

Can latex allergy be treated?
No treatments are yet available to cure natural rubber latex allergy.  So far the best treatment is to avoid exposure to latex.  Medications are available to temporarily alleviate symptoms.

Table A

Examples of types of products that often contain natural rubber latex, and their potential substitutes.¹

Natural Rubber Latex Products Substitutes
For Babies
Pacifiers, feeding nipples Silicone products
For school and office
Erasers, craft supplies, make-up and Halloween masks, adhesives Look for products labelled vinyl or silicone
Clothing
Elastic fabric, diapers, underwear Many elastic fabrics are not rubber (for instance Spandex and Lycra) but elastic webbing often contains rubber
Housework
Cleaning gloves Gloves are a major source of exposure because they are in direct contact with the skin for a long time and may give off an allergenic dust – use nitrile, neoprene, vinyl or copolymer gloves.
Toys and sporting goods
Balloons, Koosh balls, rubber ducks, soccer balls, volleyballs, coated or taped racquet handles Mylar (foil type) balloons, leather balls
Furnishings
Rubber mats, carpet backing, foam rubber Most foam rubber is polyurethane foam and will not cause problems
Medical Products
Condoms, female condoms, diaphragms Synthetic rubber or natural membrane condoms²
Medical gloves, dental dams As with household gloves above, use only gloves made with synthetic materials
First aid tape, bandages Some brands do not contain natural rubber latex
  1. It is nearly impossible to list every natural latex-containing consumer product.  The allergenicity of latex products can be reduced by washing a product thoroughly with soap and water.  The product should be soaked with large amounts of water for several minutes.  Just wiping the surface with a damp rag is not sufficient cleaning to remove allergens.  Clothing that might contain latex elastic should be laundered before use.
  2. Natural membrane condoms may provide protection against pregnancy and many common sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s).  However, they may not provide as much protection against certain viral STD’s including AIDS and hepatitis – as latex condoms.

(Note:  As of June 1994, synthetic condoms and synthetic female condoms were not yet commercially available in Canada.)

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