Allergic reactions to natural rubber latex has become an increasing health problem. According to the American Latex Allergy Association, about 3 million people in the United States have a sensitivity to natural rubber latex.
What is Natural Rubber Latex?
Natural rubber latex is an ingredient commonly found in many consumer goods such as balloons, appliance cords, hoses, hot water bottles, pacifiers, tires, condoms, rubber bands and even shoes. Latex is also found in many dental and medical supplies including masks, gloves, syringes, catheters and bandages. Natural rubber latex is derived from a milk-like substance found in rubber trees. With so much exposure to latex, more and more people are developing sensitivity which may lead to allergic reactions.
Who is Affected by Latex Allergies?
Like other allergies, latex allergy usually develops after repeated exposure in susceptible individuals. Those who have had repeated surgeries or have worked in health care are especially at risk for developing a latex allergy. Because of similar proteins, those who have allergies to foods such as avocados, tomatoes and bananas are at increased risk of becoming allergic to natural rubber latex. Those who have skin conditions that require medical care may also be at risk.
Symptoms of a Latex Allergy
The Type I latex allergy is an immediate reaction to one or more of the proteins that naturally occur in the latex. Type IV latex allergy is known as a delayed hypersensitivity that results in a reaction to the chemicals used in processing and manufacturing natural rubber latex. With Type IV, symptoms generally occur in the area exposed to Natural Rubber Latex from 48 to 96 hours after contact.
When the proteins in the latex come in contact with the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes, a patient may experience minor symptoms such as hives or nasal congestion and watery eyes. Symptoms can include the following in varying degrees:
- Sore throat
- Abdominal cramps
- Shortness of breath
These reactions may begin as a mild event but progress into a more serious condition. In some cases, a much more severe reaction called anaphylaxis may occur which lead to difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, tongue and nose as well as loss of consciousness and even death. Anaphylaxis is a very serious medical condition and demands prompt medical attention, which your dentist is trained and able to provide.
Avoid Exposure to Natural Rubber Latex
The best way to treat this condition is to completely avoid any contact with natural rubber latex. If you experience an allergic reaction when exposed to latex, it’s important to be prepared to share this information with others. An alert identification bracelet is especially useful for this purpose. Keep any medications with you that treat this allergy, along with non-latex gloves and any other pertinent medical information.
It’s extremely important to notify anyone involved in your health care regarding your latex allergy. Dr. Todd Beck at Mt. Tabor Dental urges you to tell your dentist even if you think you may be sensitive or allergic to latex. There are non-latex products that can be used to safely and effectively treat patients with latex allergies.