Natural rubber latex is a rubber that has been manufactured from the sap of the rubber tree. It is a useful and cheap rubber used in the manufacturing of many household and hospital products. It was used extensively in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s in the health care setting. However some people seem to have an increased risk of developing allergies to latex. Latex allergies tend to occur in adulthood in people who have had frequent and extensive exposure to latex in childhood and into adulthood. This includes patients with chronic conditions that need a lot of medical intervention such as spina bifida. Doctors, nurses and dentist are also at increased risk due to exposure in the workplace. It is not know conclusively if repeated exposure alone or some other factor in the make up of spina bifida patients is responsible for the increased risk of latex allergies in later life in this group.
Products made from Latex are usually yellow in colour (Similar to the colour of an elastic band). There are many alternatives to Latex now available. Products made from silicone tend to be colourless (e.g. Teats, Soothers) Latex free gloves tend to be bright colours (Green, blue, purple).
Knowing that repeated exposure to latex may cause allergies allows us to make choices to avoid it from infancy thereby reducing the chances of developing an allergy in later life. Therefore Latex should be avoided if at all possible and equipment required should be made from an alternative rubber such as silicone or vinyl.
Sometimes it may be impossible to tell if a product contains latex and it may be necessary to contact manufacturers if you are unsure. You should also inform your GP and Dentist that your child needs to avoid Latex whenever you visit.
The symptoms of natural rubber latex allergy may include:
- redness/rash, swelling or itchiness at the site of contact on the skin
- hay-fever-type symptoms such as itchy and swollen eyes, runny nose and sneezing
- Asthma like symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties/respiratory distress.
The most severe reactions occur when the allergens make direct contact with moist surfaces such as the mouth, nose, throat, vagina, rectum or internal tissues during surgery.