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Allergies

Latex Allergy

Natural rubber latex is a milky fluid obtained from the rubber tree. It is used for the production of a number of everyday use consumer products and healthcare items. Latex is a natural product which contains proteins against which some individuals can form IgE antibodies. Allergic reactions to latex can be triggered by direct contact with latex on the skin or mucosa or by inhalation of powder in the latex gloves.

Immediate hypersensitivity (allergy) to latex

Patients with immediate latex allergy can get symptoms of urticaria (rash, nettle like hives, wheals) or angioedema (swellings) or wheezing or symptoms of anaphylaxis (breathing difficultly, throat swelling, or fall in blood pressure) within an hour of exposure to latex containing products (for example on blowing balloons, wearing latex gloves or using latex condoms).

Since allergy to latex is caused by the formation of specific IgE antibody to latex, a diagnosis of allergy to latex can be established by performing allergy test (see allergy tests).

Latex fruit syndrome

Some individuals who are allergic to latex can also get allergic symptoms on exposure to certain fruits like banana, kiwi, avocado etc. This is known as latex-fruit syndrome. Since allergy to fruits is caused by an IgE antibody, it is possible to perform allergy testing to establish a diagnosis (see allergy tests).

Delayed hypersensitivity to latex

Rubber products also contain chemicals known as accelerators which are chemicals used in the manufacturing process of rubber (vulcanisation). This process makes untreated natural rubber latex suitable for use in the manufacture of various rubber products. In some individuals contact with rubber accelerators can result in delayed hypersensitivity reaction, also known as contact dermatitis, whereby patients can develop red, itchy, raised rash several hours after contact with the rubber product and takes several days to settle down. These reactions are not caused by IgE antibodies. They are caused by T cells. A different type of allergy test called patch testing can be performed by the dermatologist to establish this diagnosis (see allergy tests).

Treatment

Patients with hypersensitivity to latex are advised to avoid contact with latex products. They are advised to let their GPs and pharmacist know about their allergy. At times they may be advised to wear a medic alert device regarding their latex allergy. Patients with latex fruit syndrome are advised to avoid fruits which trigger their symptoms.

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