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SALT LAKE CITY — Over the years, a latex allergy has become a major health concern for health care workers, patients and many others. The reason for this stems from increased use of the product.
The Mayo Clinic defines latex as “a product manufactured from a milky fluid that comes from the rubber tree.“ The more you are exposed to it, the more likely you are to develop an allergy. It is estimated roughly 1 percent of the general population, 20 percent of nurses, and more than 60 percent of children with spina bifida have a latex allergy.
- Children with spina bifida
- People with urinary tract abnormalities present at birth
- People who undergo multiple surgeries or medical procedures
- Health care workers
- Rubber industry workers
- People with a family history of allergies
This is one reason why hospitals have gone latex-free. Most hospitals have latex-free gloves and other hospital supplies as needed; and many have even issued a ban on latex balloons.
Currently, there is no predictable pattern for who will develop an allergic reaction. Symptoms, however, range from mild to severe. They include:
- Irritant dermatitis — red, irritated skin with an eczema-type rash anywhere the latex has touched.
- Type IV hypersensitivity — localized allergic reaction, runny nose, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and cough.
- Type I reaction — a systemic allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.
When Type IV reaction begins, it is sometimes difficult for a person to know what is happening or what is causing their symptoms. The reaction usually starts with irritant dermatitis and then progresses to an allergic reaction in the respiratory system. As time goes on, this reaction can develop into a Type 1 reaction, causing swelling of tissues in the lungs and throat. Without intervention, this anaphylaxis can lead to death.
Treatment for an allergic reaction to latex is as follows:
- If a rash develops, use topical corticosteroid creams or water-based lotions and take antihistamines.
- If you begin experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek emergency care immediately.
In general, if you’re aware you have a latex allergy you should decrease your exposure to latex products or simply avoid any contact with latex all together.
The best way of preventing reactions is to inform, inform, inform. As health care providers, we need, see and care for so many people in a short amount of time. It's critical we have your help in reminding us often.
In addition, I would suggest getting an allergy alert bracelet from your local pharmacy to wear at all times. Healthcare providers will always ask what your allergies are; but if you cannot communicate to us, we will look for an alert necklace or bracelet.
Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.