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Latex Definition And Some Latex Allergic Reactions

Latex Definition

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According to the Webster’s Dictionary, the term “latex” refers to natural rubber latex, the product manufactured from a milky fluid derived from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. Several types of synthetic rubber are also referred to as “latex,” but these do not release the proteins that cause allergic reactions.

Latex Allergies

Latex Allergies
Workers who are exposed to latex gloves and other products that contain natural rubber latex may develop allergic reactions.

Allergy to latex was first recognized in the late 1970s. Since then, it has become a major health concern as an increased number of people in the workplace are affected. Health care workers exposed to latex gloves or medical products containing latex are especially at risk. It is estimated that 8-12% of health care workers are latex sensitive.

Workers in the health care industry (physicians, nurses, dentists, technicians, etc.) are at risk for developing a latex allergy because they use latex gloves frequently. Workers with less frequent glove use (hairdressers, housekeepers, food service workers, etc.) and workers in industries that manufacture latex products are also at risk for having a latex allergy.

Workers who are exposed to latex gloves and other products that contain natural rubber latex may develop some of the following allergic reactions:

  • skin rashes (such as hives)
  • nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms (sneezing, itchy eyes, or wheezing from exposure to airborne latex particles)
  • asthma
  • shock (rarely)

Types of Reactions

The use of natural rubber products may result in reactions that fall into the following three categories:

  1. irritant contact dermatitis
  2. allergic contact dermatitis (Type IV delayed hypersensitivity)
  3. IgE/histamine-mediated allergy (Type I immediate hypersensitivity)

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

When gloves are associated with skin wounds, the most common reaction is irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis may be due to direct irritation from gloves or glove powder. It may also be due to other causes, such as the following:

  • soaps and detergents
  • incomplete hand drying
  • other chemicals

Irritant contact dermatitis presents as dried, cracked, split skin. Although irritant contact dermatitis is not an allergic reaction, the breaking of the intact skin barrier due to these lesions may afford a pathway for other natural rubber latex (NRL) proteins to gain access, which can cause a development of sensitivity. Additionally, irritant contact dermatitis lesions disrupt the barrier function that intact skin provides to inhibit passage of various chemicals and pathogens.


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