Useful facts on latex allergy (lateksallergi)
What is latex?
Latex is sap from the rubber tree - Hevea brasiliensis, which is processed and combined with a number of chemical substances in order to achieve the desired properties. Latex is milk sap, which seeps through cuts or wounds in the surface of the plant, in the same way as does sap from dandelions, greater celandi and poinsettia. Synthetic latex is produced from synthetic caoutchouc. The term latex is synonymous with natural rubber.
Latex can be found in many consumer goods and medical items, these include balloons, elastic bands, stockings, shoes, Wellington boots, bathmats, car and cycle tyres, washing up gloves, aprons, comforters, wetsuits, elastic in clothing, anaesthetic equipment, drains, infusion sets, bottle corks, nebuliser masks and catheters, etc.
One area of use requiring particular attention is latex in condoms and pessaries. Here latex allergy can result in very serious reactions, in addition to impacting on the sex-lives of affected individuals. Durex is introducing a condom that will be guaranteed to be latex-free.
«Avanti» polyurethane condom.
Synthetic products, e.g. latex paints, contain synthetic latex.
Symptoms of latex allergy:
Symptoms may include both immediate reactions with a positive reaction to antibody IgE, and symptoms such as delayed allergic reaction in contact eczema.
Eczematous changes to the skin; redness, lesions and itching skin are common in latex allergy. Oozing blemishes and cracked skin may also occur. Respiratory problems such as nose/eye symptoms and asthma are also relatively common.
Latex cross-reacts with proteins in tropical fruits and may thereby lead to oral allergy syndrome (itching and swelling of the mouth, nose, lips and throat). Banana, avocado and kiwi fruit provoke the most frequent symptoms, but cross-reactions may also be triggered by papaya, figs, potatoes, tomatoes and chestnuts. 30-80 % of all individuals with latex allergy suffer symptoms when they eat one or more of these foodstuffs. Latex can also cross-react with sap, leaf sap and birch pollen. The cross reaction with foodstuffs results from plant proteins in the latex cross-reacting with the foodstuffs. Latex can also provoke life-threatening reactions (allergic shock) in sensitive individuals.
Who suffers from latex allergy?
A few years ago, such allergies occurred almost always in natives who tapped latex from trees, e.g. in Indonesia.
Subsequently allergies appeared in children who had undergone surgery and had been subject to significant close contact with latex surgical gloves. The discovery of the HIV-virus resulted in a significant increase in use of protective gloves, which again has meant that many individuals, in particular health personnel, have become allergic.
The occurrence amongst health personnel is approximately 7 %. Due to the increased use of latex gloves in this occupational category over the past 10-15 years, allergy is thought to be increasing. Cleaning workers and dentists are also exposed groups.
Treatment of latex allergy:
In the presence of known allergy to latex, all close contact with latex must be avoided. Those with a cross-reaction to foodstuffs should avoid these.
Allergic shock (anaphylaxis) most commonly begins with the patient’s most usual allergy symptoms. Allergic shock may occur gradually, or occur acutely and be life-threatening. Those with such severe allergy that they are at risk of allergic shock should carry an adrenaline syringe (EpiPen), to be injected immediately with the onset of symptoms. An ambulance should be called immediately.
Allergy vaccination (hyposensitisation) is not a suitable treatment in latex allergy.
How to get a diagnosis:
Investigations in suspected latex allergy are performed in the first instance by dermatologists and paediatricians. A thorough medical history is beneficial. Skin-prick testing, or placing a piece of latex glove on the forearm in order to observe for skin reactions, are current methods. A blood test, with testing of specific IgE may be beneficial in addition to skin testing.
Prevention of allergy:
With the initial onset of latex allergy the symptoms can be treated, but the actual allergy cannot be cured. The best option is to prevent occurrence. Many latex articles can be substituted with vinyl products. Products labelled “hypoallergenic”, etc., do not necessarily contain less latex allergens than products without such labelling.
Rubber gloves should be powder-free with a low content of allergens/loose proteins, latex additives and endotoxins. It is known that following a change to such non-latex gloves, the frequency of new allergy cases diminishes, and a number of allergic individuals with mild symptoms will be able to continue working in the same workplace. This is also significant for the patients. A requirement should be made of suppliers to supply such gloves and to document that the gloves satisfy the requirements.