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Latex Allergy

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Allergies come in all shapes and forms, and the culprit is usually right in front of our eyes. But when one develops an allergy towards a particular ingredient in complex substances, identifying the cause of an allergic reaction becomes elusive. One such element is latex.


What is latex?

Latex is found in several everyday items, from balloons and gloves to condoms and cables. Latex is used in the manufacture of all these products and may be either of the natural or synthetic variety. Natural latex is found in the milky sap that seeps from the barks of the rubber tree. It is primarily composed of rubber particles and water molecules and its usage is vast. Since the 1600s, latex has been an element that has been incorporated into the daily lives of millions.


Latex Allergy

Cases of latex allergy were very unusual before the 1980's. The steep climb in the number of cases is in all likeliness due to the advancement in science that enabled latex to be used more widely in products such as surgical gloves. New diseases and awareness of hygiene also increased the number of people that came in contact with latex, primarily those who belong to the healthcare sector.

Rubber workers and healthcare providers thus make up for the majority of those who are allergic to latex. Children suffering from Spina Bifida, which is a birth defect that affects the spinal cord, are also more susceptible to suffer from latex allergy.


The culprit behind it all, are the water soluble proteins found in latex and latex based products. One might be exposed to latex by direct contact as in the case of rubber workers or a nurse who wears rubber gloves. But exposure might also be through air-borne latex particles, if someone in your vicinity snaps on a glove or prepares to blow out a balloon.

Patients who are regulars on the surgical table or need catheters have also been recorded as being more susceptible to developing an allergic reaction towards latex.


Symptoms of latex allergy


Symptoms that are typical of an allergic reaction to latex include skin rash, itching, hives, a runny nose, sneezing and even watery eyes. However, latex allergy presents itself primarily in two forms and these can help determine the severity of the allergy.


Delayed Hypersensitivity: Gradual development of a red rash combined with itchiness, and some swelling, usually in the areas of contact with the latex are typical of delayed hypersensitivity to latex. Sometimes a runny nose and scratchy throat are part of the symptoms as well. These symptoms usually set in between 6 and 24 hours of contact and are not life threatening.


Immediate Hypersensitivity: Here the onset of symptoms will happen with minutes and the repercussions are more severe. The symptoms that may be suffered by those who are acutely allergic to latex include hives, tightness in the throat, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness, anaphylaxis and even death. All these symptoms present quickly and usually have a disabling effect on the victim and immediate medical attention will be required.


Treating latex allergy

The first step in treatment is the proper diagnosis of the allergic condition, including the severity of it. Several skin patch tests or some more advanced tests are usually used to diagnose latex allergy. Post diagnosis, a doctor will advise on the appropriate course of action. Anti allergy medicines are usually advised depending on the severity but the common course of action is usually the conscious avoidance of latex.



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