Latex allergies

Latex is the sap from the Hevea brasiliensis tree. See the Fact sheet about Latex allergy 

Latex allergies and Spina Bifida
Sensitivity to latex (natural rubber) can be a problem for people with Spina Bifida because of the frequency with which they come into contact with it. Many healthcare products contain latex so people with Spina Bifida (and medical professionals) are exposed to it on a regular basis - either during surgery (through the use of latex gloves and anaesthetic equipment) or during bladder and bowel management (through the use of latex tubing, gloves and catheters). Latex allergy occurs when the body's natural defences against an allergen come into force. It involves the production of antibodies when there is contact with a specific antigen (in this case latex). Antibodies are produced by the initial reaction to latex which sensitise the cells in all tissues. The severity of subsequent reactions depends on the means of entry of the antigen.

Exposure to latex occurs when products containing rubber come in contact with a person's skin or mucous membranes such as the mouth, eyes, genitals, bladder or rectum. Serious reactions can also occur when latex enters the bloodstream. In addition, the powder from balloons or gloves can absorb particles and become airborne causing reactions when breathed by a latex sensitive person. The most potent and life-threatening reaction is entry into the vascular system, which can lead to changes in blood pressure and circulation (anaphylactic shock). Skin contact produces a less severe reaction Ð this is usually raised, pinkish, itchy weals, which develop suddenly and last a few days, but leave no visible trace.

Research has shown in the United States that between 18% and 73% of children and adolescents with Spina Bifida are sensitive to latex as measured by history or blood test.

More is known about latex allergy in hospital staff and dentists than in patients. But things are changing. The Royal College of Nursing's Society of Occupational Health Nursing (SOHN) did a survey of health departments in 1996 to find out the number of staff with a latex allergy in UK hospitals. These figures will be used to lobby the government and to encourage hospitals to introduce allergy screening for new staff and patients, and to work out how to deal with patients and staff who have latex allergy. The Department of Health's Medical Devices Agency has suggested that health professionals ask patients about previous allergic reactions to latex. However, some believe nurses should go further and ask patients about any food allergies as the two are cross-related.
The mother of a case study says: ''George seems an isolated case at the moment. We're fighting for his problem to be recognised. People don't believe it. If he ever had to be admitted into hospital as an emergency, I'd have kittens. They would have to suck all the air out of the operating theatre because even latex in the air can affect him.''

List of products containing latex
Common household and hospital products containing latex:

  • Household gloves
  • Hospital gloves
  • Condoms
  • Condom incontinence aids
  • Wheelchair tyres
  • Adhesive tapes (sticky plasters)
  • Some urinary catheters
  • Some enema tubing
  • Protective sheets
  • Colostomy/urostomy products
  • Balloons and rubber balls
  • Art supplies
  • Dental dams
  • Baby bottle nipples and pacifiers
  • Elastic on clothes
  • Beach toys
  • Chewing gum

There are alternative, non-latex products for all of these items. Usually, these alternatives are made of plastic, vinyl or silicone.

Foods with a cross-reactivity to latex
Research has shown that proteins found in certain foods show similar immune system reactivity to the proteins found in latex. So, if your mouth itches when you eat any of the foods listed below, you could be allergic to latex as well. Foods which have been identified as having cross reactivity include: 

  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Tomatoes
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Mangoes
  • Chestnuts

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