Latex is a fluid that comes from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, found in Africa and Southeast Asia. Allergic reactions to products made with latex develop in people who become allergic (or sensitized) to proteins contained in natural rubber latex. At least 13 distinct proteins have been identified and associated with latex sensitivities. Products with natural rubber latex include some rubber gloves, condoms, and medical equipment such as catheters, breathing tubes, enema tips, and dental dams, among others. It should be noted that synthetic rubber products; such as “latex house paints” do not trigger allergic reactions in people who are allergic to products made with natural rubber latex.
People who are in regular contact with natural rubber latex products may be at risk of becoming sensitive to latex. Latex allergic reactions may vary from hives, rashes, and asthma symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing, to anaphylactic reactions like severe breathing difficulty and/or fall in blood pressure (shock) that can put the patient’s life at risk. Latex allergies usually develop after many previous exposures to latex and are usually diagnosed based on symptoms, but a blood or skin test is sometimes done to confirm the diagnosis.
Not all people exposed to latex will develop a latex allergy. However, it is recommended to reduce unnecessary exposure to latex products. If you already have a latex allergy, you should wear medical alert identification and carry an epinephrine auto-injector for emergency treatment. If you are a healthcare worker, you and the people surrounding you must use synthetic gloves to reduce your risk of reaction.
Interestingly, around 30-80% of people with latex allergy may experience different levels of allergic reactions when they eat certain foods. These foods have been classified in three categories: high, moderate, and low or undetermined association to latex allergy. Based on the degrees of association, some guidelines suggest people with latex allergy to avoid foods included in the high level and keep a close eye on foods classified as moderate or low level of allergic reaction.
High level of association with allergic reaction:
Moderate level of association with allergic reactions:
Low or undetermined level of association with allergic reactions:
Fig, Goji berry/Wolfberry
Peppers (Cayenne, Sweet/bell)
Ask your doctor if you think you have a latex allergy. Also, keep an eye on the foods mentioned above to identify any reaction to any of these foods. Prevention is key, especially in preventable situations such as latex allergy. If you have more questions regarding this topic, feel free to come to visit me at my desk.
Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN