Latex Allergy

Latex have been widely used in the medical field. From gloves to rubber bands, latex plays a big role in terms of protecting health care workers from blood and body fluids. However, there are some instances that latex can bring an allergy such as contact allergy among people.

Latex is naturally taken from a rubber tree called Hevea brasiliensis. This rubber tree is abundant in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In a clear milky consistency, latex has been found to be suitable to be used as the primary material for examination gloves, rubber bands, balloons and condoms nowadays. Looking into its natural components, latex has also been to contain certain proteins that may induce allergic reaction for those who has sensitive skin.

It was William Halstead who was known to have used latex gloves as a surgical protection to his hands dating back in 1890. That was the start of latex as an important material for medical equipments, its elasticity and durability for the work has proved its usefulness for years. It was in 1980s to 1990s that there was an increase demand for latex in the market.

On the other side of the story, latex allergy has been also known. Health care workers for instance, have been greatly exposed to latex as well as latex allergy. Latex allergy can happen when the latex material contacts with the sensitive skin of the vulnerable host. An allergic reaction happens upon the contact, redness and itchiness elicit the reaction. Patients are also not exempted when it comes to allergic reactions. Some allergic reactions can also happen inside the body especially during a surgical procedure wherein latex gloves were used by surgeons. There are incidences that the latex molecules are also inhaled and difficulty of breathing can be seen.

Latex allergy can be determined by one of the three groups of signs and symptoms:

  1. Irritant dermatitis – People who get this form of latex allergy involves the skin as the contact surface. Itchiness and eventual breakdown on the skin can predispose individuals especially health care workers to entrance of bacteria that can be found in the hospital causing nosocomial infections.
  2. Delayed hypersensitivity reaction – The reaction surfaced after 24 hour to 48 hours of exposure. Initially, itchiness can also be seen as well as redness. An individual is expected to be allegic with latex in the future as this delayed reaction can be seen.
  3. Immunoglobulin E mediated reaction – This can be serious since the latex proteins comes in contact with the bloodstream, the tendency of the body is to release IgE which are specific for allergic reaction. This is common when latex are used inside the body such as during surgical intervention.

Signs and Symptoms of Latex Allergy:

  1. Itchiness
  2. Redness of the exposed skin or area
  3. Rhinits
  4. Conjunctivitis
  5. Bronchospasm
  6. Laryngospasm
  7. Hypotension
  8. Generalized allergic reaction- anaphylactic shock

Management of Latex Allergy:

  1. Assess the signs and symptoms of the latex allergy. Identify the cause of the allergy and what object has been used before the allergic reaction happens.
  2. Take blood sample in order to know the level of IgE. Radioimmunoassay test can be used to check the specificity of the IgE response.
  3. Skin prick testing can used in order to check the reaction of the body to latex. A precaution must be observed since anaphylactic shock can be apparent.
  4. Make sure that all medical supplies to used must be latex-free.
  5. Medications that can administered to such patients can be antihistamines, corticosteroids.
  6. The most effective preventive intervention is to educate the patient in order to avoid future occurrence of the  allergy.

Byron Webb Romero, RN, MSN

Finished BSN at Lyceum of the Philippines University, and Master of Science in Nursing Major in Adult Health Nursing at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. Currently working at Manila Doctors College of Nursing as a Team Leader for Level I and II, Lecturer for Professional Nursing Subjects, and also a Clinical Instructor.

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