What Is Latex Allergy?
Allergic responses to latex (rubber) products include watery eyes, wheezing, hives, rash, swelling and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction). These responses can occur when items containing latex touch the skin, the mucous membranes (like the mouth, genitals, bladder, or rectum), open areas, or bloodstream (especially during surgery). Some people are so allergic that they react to breathing the powder inside latex gloves or balloons.
What Is Latex?
Latex is the sap from the Hevea brasiliensis tree. Rubber is produced when chemicals to increase durability, elasticity and strength are added to the latex. Latex is found in many products commonly used in the hospital, the community, and the home, including:
Hospital and Clinic
- IV tubing injection sites
- Surgical and exam gloves
- Adhesive tapes
- Elastic bandages
Home and Community
- Baby bottle nipples
- Elastic on diapers, clothes
- Rubber balls
- Koosh balls
- Beach toys
- Art supplies
- Dental Dams
There are alternative, non-latex products for all of these items. Usually, these alternatives are made of plastic, vinyl, or silicone.
Who Is Allergic to Latex?
While anyone could develop a latex allergy, certain groups of individuals are at greater risk of becoming latex allergic. These groups are made up of people who have frequent exposure to latex, and include:
1. Health Professionals.
2. People with spina bifida.
3. People who had multiple surgeries.
4. History of allergic reaction to multiple intravenous medicines.
5. People who work in the latex industry.
6. Those with certain food allergies (for example, bananas and avocados).
While it is not known exactly how this allergy develops, it is estimated that 10% of health care workers and up to 64% of children with spina bifida are allergic to latex.
What Should We Do About Latex Allergy?
If you or your child has ever had a reaction of any kind to a latex product or an unexplained allergic reaction during an operation, please tell your health care professionals.
For individuals who have a documented latex allergy, we recommend:
1. Avoid all latex products. Substitute other kinds of gloves, tape, pacifiers, etc.
2. Ask your doctors about pre-medication before surgery.
3. Carry with you:
a) a letter from your doctor describing the latex allergy.
b) sterile non-latex gloves.
4. If you or your child has had a serious allergic reaction, talk to your doctor about carrying an epinephrine kit.
5. Wear a Medic Alert bracelet or necklace.
For individuals with spina bifida or urologic malformations, we recommend being on LATEX ALERT. This means to avoid latex products to hopefully lessen the possibility of developing this allergy in the future. Probably the most important recommendation is to communicate about this allergy to all responsible caretakers of children at risk, including all health care providers, school and day care personnel, and babysitters. Teach your children to recognize and avoid latex products. Be sure that your child's medical records, dental records, and school records have a latex allergy alert.
Sharing information so that allergic individuals have minimal exposure to latex products in the home, school, community, and hospital will help to minimize the risk of allergy reactions.
UWHC Pediatric Allergy Clinic
UWHC Adult Allergy Clinic
UWHC Spina Bifida Clinic
Spina Bifida Association of America
4590 MacArthur Boulevard NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 2007-4226
The above information was adapted with permission from the Spina Bifida Association of America.
American Academy of Allergy and Immunology (1993). Task force on allergic reactions to latex. Journal of Allergy in Clinical Immunology, 92: 16-18.
Fink, J. and Kelly K. (1994). Latex hypersensitivity - an emerging problem. Allergy and Clinical Immunology News, 6:4-6.
Rissman, B. (1991). Glove allergies threaten health, careers of HCWs. Hospital Employee Health, 3:29-33.
Young, M., Meyers, M., McCulloch, L. & Brown, L. (1992). Latex allergy: A guideline for perioperative nurses. AORN Journal, 56(3): 488-506.
NIOSH Alert: Preventing Allergic Reaction to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace. June, 1997. NIOSH Publication No. 97-135.
Charous, L. et.al. Natural rubber latex allergy after 12 years: Recommendations and perspectives. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Volume 109, Number 1. January, 2002.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 02/28/2013
Copyright © 02/28/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4648
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