While several types of synthetic rubber are referred to as "latex," a latex allergy is caused by natural rubber latex manufactured from a milky fluid derived from the rubber tree. Symptoms of an allergy to this substance may include skin rash, hives, flushing, and itching. Healthcare workers are at risk of developing this allergy because they use latex gloves frequently. Certain medications may reduce the allergic symptoms; but complete latex avoidance, though quite difficult, is the most effective approach to treatment.
Latex gloves have proved effective in preventing transmission of many infectious diseases to healthcare workers. But for some workers, exposure to latex may result in allergic reactions. Reports of such latex allergies have increased in recent years -- especially among healthcare workers.
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 latex allergy reactions.
Latex allergy is a reaction to certain proteins in latex rubber. The amount of latex exposure needed to produce sensitization or an allergic reaction is unknown. Increasing the exposure to latex proteins increases the risk of developing latex allergy symptoms.
Skin contact is not the only type of latex exposure. Latex proteins become fastened to the lubricant powder used in some gloves. When workers change gloves, the protein/powder particles become airborne and can be inhaled.
Symptoms of latex allergy may include:
- Skin rash
- Nasal, eye, or sinus problems
(Click Latex Allergy Symptoms for more information about symptoms of latex allergies.)