Types Of Reactions Due To Use Of Natural Rubber Products

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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.

Latex Allergies

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

Types of Reactions

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)

1. 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.

2. Allergic Contact Dermatitis

 Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis has an appearance similar to the typical poison ivy reaction.

The second type of reaction that may be associated with glove use is allergic contact dermatitis.

When glove use has been associated with this reaction, the majority of cases appear to be due to the chemicals used in processing NRL or other glove materials.

Allergic contact dermatitis has an appearance similar to the typical poison ivy reaction, with blistering, itching, crusting, oozing lesions.

Like poison ivy, this dermatitis appears 24-72 hours after the use of gloves or exposure to other sources of chemical sensitizers.

IgE/histamine-mediated Allergy

IgEhistamine-mediated Allergy
Symptoms from a latex allergy can range from mild to life-threatening.

The third and potentially most serious type of reaction sometimes associated with glove use is a true IgE/histamine-mediated allergy (also called immediate or type I hypersensitivity) to allergenic glove protein. This type of reaction can involve local or systemic symptoms.

Local Symptoms: Localized reactions occur at the site of exposure.

  • itching
  • skin redness
  • hives or rash

Systemic Symptoms: Systemic (more severe) symptoms that may indicate a serious latex allergy include the following:

  • sneezing or coughing
  • runny nose
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • scratchy throat
  • difficulty breathing or wheezing

Anaphylaxis Symptoms: The most serious allergic reaction to latex is anaphylaxis. An anaphylaxis reaction develops immediately after latex exposure in highly sensitive people. It rarely happens the first time someone is exposed. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • hives or swelling
  • nausea and vomiting
  • drop in blood pressure or rapid/weak pulse
  • confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness

If any of these symptoms develop following an exposure to latex, medical treatment must be initiated immediately.

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