Latex Sensitivities and
Latex sensitivity is an increasingly
common problem in the United States. Currently, there are as many as 17 million Americans sensitized to
latex. Occupational exposure to latex has sensitized 8% to 12 % of health care workers. The increase in latex
allergy cases has been correlated with prolonged exposure to latex products, primarily through the use of latex
Latex, also known as rubber or natural
latex, is made from the milky sap of the rubber tree. Latex can be found in many household products and in many
medical and dental supplies.
A latex allergy can develop in
individuals after repeated exposure to products containing natural rubber latex. A latex allergy arises when an
individual’s immune system over reacts to an otherwise harmless substance. The immune system can over react when
a dental device or supply that contains latex comes into contact with the mucous membranes. Even the powder used
in latex gloves can contain the latex proteins that become airborne when the gloves are removed. This can cause
an upper airway allergic reaction or asthma symptoms in susceptible people.
What causes a
The exact cause of latex allergy in
unknown, but repeated exposure to latex and rubber products is thought to trigger symptoms.
What can happen
as a result of a latex reaction?
There are three types of latex
dermatitis – This is the least threatening type of latex reaction. This non-allergic reaction results
in dryness, itching, burning, scaling, and lesions on the skin.
dermatitis – This is a delayed reaction to additives used in latex processing, which results in the
same type of reactions as irritant contact dermatitis but the reaction is more severe, spreads to more parts of
the body, and lasts longer.
Immediate allergic reaction
(latex hypersensitivity) – This is the most serious reaction to latex. Symptoms include runny nose with
hay fever-like symptoms, conjunctivitis, cramps, hives, and severe itching, Rarely, symptoms might progress to a
life- threatening condition known as anaphylaxis, which is associated with such symptoms as a sudden drop in
blood pressure, an increased pulse, tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing/wheezing,
and tissue swelling. If left untreated, this condition could lead to temporary loss of consciousness and
How is a latex
Reactions might be treated by removal of
the latex product and drug treatment according to the type of symptoms developing. If the symptoms are irritant
contact dermatitis, antihistamine and/or corticosteroid medicines might be enough to treat symptoms. Severe
reactions should be treated with epinephrine, intravenous fluids, and support of hospital or emergency
If you have a latex allergy, it is
important for you to wear a medical alert bracelet and carry an emergency epinephrine syringe. Epinephrine is
the treatment used for severe allergic reactions.
There is no cure for a latex allergy;
the best treatment for this condition is prevention.
Do I have to take
special precautions before visiting my dentist?
If you have a known latex allergy, call
us before your scheduled appointment. We have a latex-free protocol that we will follow for patients with latex
Should I be
concerned that I might develop a latex allergy?
Health care workers who wear latex
gloves all the time have more to be concerned about than you do. You could develop a latex sensitivity to the
gloves used for a procedure. This is different from latex allergy. With a latex sensitivity, you’d develop a
swelling or a rash in the area where the gloves touched you. This would be an irritant contact dermatitis. A
true allergic reaction is more serious, much less common, and would cause symptoms including shortness of
breath, wheezing, full body rash, and swelling.
by Bernadette, CDA - December 2, 2009
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