Allergic reactions to latex gloves…just how common is this issue? What can you do when this situation occurs? You’ve heard about it, but what does it mean? Medtrainer can help you sort out how to handle this allergy and the compliance requirements associated with it. Latex allergy refers to a wide range of allergic reactions to substances contained in natural latex. Allergic reactions to any substance will appear when a person’s immune system reacts to nontoxic environmental situations or substances such as latex. Latex can be found in two forms: natural or synthetic. It’s a complex emulsion, that when natural, is used by the plants it contains as a defense against insects. Ah, but you’re not an insect. You’re a human, and chances are that at some point in your life in the medical profession, you’ve found that rubber gloves are the main source of allergic latex reactions. But it’s also used in over 400,000 products from Band-Aids to blood pressure cuffs, catheters to dental dams, IV tubes and ventilator tubing to other medical devices. If you have or have experienced allergic reactions to latex, you need to verify whether latex is contained in the items you’re in contact with, and if you don’t know – talk to manufacturers. Beginning in the late 1980s there’s appeared to be has been a dramatic rise in latex allergy. Why? Due logically to the universal precautions for preventing infectious diseases from spreading, diseases such as the AIDS virus or MERS. Because of this the use of latex gloves is very widespread. Exposures to latex and rubber products are common and the end result: health care workers are more at risk for latex allergy. So, to answer our first question, how common is that allergy? Over 10% of healthcare workers apparently have a latex allergy, with an average of 1% to 6% of the general population allergic, too. These allergic individuals identify latex as a pathogen. The immune system the triggers the ells in the body to produce IgE – that’s immunoglobulin E. Those are antibodies designed to fight the latex. When you come into contact with latex, the IgE antibodies signal the immune system to release chemicals, such as histamine, in the bloodstream. And what sort of a reaction does this cause? Well, the more a person is exposed to latex, the greater their immune system experiences sensitization. And the larger and more violent the reaction to this exposure. The powder used in surgical gloves is a major immune problem. Latex easily sticks to the powder, the gloves often will snap when put on or taken off, which sends the powder into the air – powder that has latex adhering to it. This creates maximum exposure and a maximum reaction. Reactions include three different types of latex sensitivity. First: Irritant contact dermatitis. This is the least significant type of latex reaction, and is basically a non-allergenic skin reaction. Repeated exposure to chemicals in latex gloves results in dryness, as well as skin itching, burning, scaling, and lesions. Second: Allergic contact dermatitis. This is seen as a delayed reaction to additives used in latex processing, creating similar reactions as irritant contact dermatitis, but it is more severe. It usually spreads throughout the body, and lasts for a longer time. Third: Immediate allergic reaction, also known as latex hypersensitivity. This is the most serious reaction to latex. Symptoms include rhinitis, conjunctivitis, cramps, hives, and extreme itching. Symptoms can also become more severe, resulting in tremors, chest pain, blood pressure lowering, even anaphylactic shock, or if untreated, death. While these serious allergic reactions to latex can range from skin redness and itching to more profound symptoms, allergic reactions to latex rarely become life-threatening conditions indicated by symptoms like low blood pressure, difficulty in breathing or with a rapid heart rate. But if they do progress into severity, emergency measures should be taken immediately. So in short, latex allergies are no laughing matter. What can you do? The short but unlikely to be simple answer is to avoid latex. Those who are extremely allergic to latex can have a reaction from clothes, shoes, and elastic bands, condoms, pacifiers, baby-bottle nipples, even balloons, as well as the latex products used in the medical industry. Type 1 allergic reactions to latex can even be triggered by airborne particles and may exhibit symptoms that include scaliness of the skin, burning, blistering or oozing. Irritant contact dermatitis is the mildest and most common reaction usually causing dry and itchy skin after using latex gloves. What if you don’t know if you’re at risk? Here’s the thing, for people who genetically predisposed toward latex allergy, the allergy may take awhile to occur, due to the build up of use of latex products. Repeated exposure is what causes an allergy to develop for those who are predisposed, such as health care workers from nurses to dental hygienists and operating room staff. Also extremely susceptible: those with multiple surgical experiences, bone marrow cell defects, regular urinary catheter users – as many catheters have a rubber tip, spinal surgery patients, asthma or eczema sufferers, and those whoa re already allergic to plant foods. Some individuals already allergic to latex may also be allergic to certain food items due to a so-called cross reaction. This means that your immune system will produce the same allergic symptoms as it would when exposed to latex. A variety of foods are commonly associate with cross transactions, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Common allergens include tomatoes, chestnuts, wheat and rye. If you’re allergic to any of these types of foods, your doctor should be told as this can contribute very definitely to allergy to latex. What happens if you suspect you may have an allergy to latex, but it hasn’t been positively determined? Your doctor may order an allergy patch test. This test will reveal if a patient is latex sensitive or sensitive to similar types of substances. It must be administered very carefully as patients can have a severe reaction to the test itself. Alternatively or in conjunction with a patch test, your doctor may ask for a blood test to determine allergies. Can latex allergies by cured, or at least treated? Unfortunately there’s presently no way to prevent allergic reaction to latex. Should symptoms occur, allergic reactions are usually deflected with the use of antihistamines, or adrenaline, or steroids. But the best plan is to just avoid products with latex in them. Substances can be used as a substitute for latex, like neoprene or polymer agents. A recent Medical College of Wisconsin study noted that the best way to prevent sensitization to latex that leads to allergic reaction is to simply stop using powdered latex gloves. If this is done, allergens in the air and air ducts is reduced greatly and helps to prevent sensitization. While there is no legal requirement at present that forces manufacturers of products that contain latex to state this component in their labeling, researching products will often turn up the information needed to prevent the use of products involving latex. Choosing products which are created from natural rubber can result in dramatically decreased sensitization. But for those who are sensitized, and come into contact with Latex? With sensitivity over stimulated and heightened, sometimes replacing Latex coated products with products that aren’t coated can still cause a reaction. How is this possible? Latex free products are often manufactured in the same setting as products that contain latex, and small traces of latex can still be present – and that can be enough. Let Medtrainer help you to navigate the perilous waters of latex compliance, as the latex allergy concerns continue to be an issue for the medical profession.