Learn About Latex

by ckilbourne

Latex allergies are mostly annoying but sometimes more serious, so train employees who are exposed to latex on how they can protect themselves from having allergic reactions to latex.

The latex allergy is actually a reaction to certain proteins in latex rubber. While it’s not known just how much latex exposure will create sensitization or an allergic reaction, the risk obviously rises with both the frequency and length of exposure. It may take quite a while to become sensitized to latex, but once people are sensitized, they usually develop symptoms promptly whenever they’re exposed.

Allergic reactions to latex are often fairly mild. The skin may develop:

  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Itchiness

In more serious cases, people also develop respiratory symptoms, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Scratchy throat
  • Asthma

On rare occasions, an allergic person may even have what’s known as anaphylaxis, a hypersensitivity that can send a person into shock. Some people have even died. However, latex allergies usually start with milder symptoms so the problem can be identified before the worst-case scenario develops.

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Latex allergy can develop from skin contact or from inhaling airborne particles. The latex proteins get into the air when they fasten to the powder used in some gloves. As the gloves are put on or removed, the proteins are released into the air.

There are indications that people with a history of hay fever or certain food allergies may be more likely than others to develop latex allergies. It is believed that those most at risk of developing life-threatening shock reactions to latex are those who have previously had allergic reactions to latex or unexplained reactions or shock during a medical or surgical procedure.

In addition to allergies to latex itself, some people develop dermatitis or skin problems when they wear latex gloves. Dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin may result from using the gloves or from:

  • Washing and drying hands repeatedly
  • Not drying hands thoroughly
  • Using cleaners and sanitizers
  • Reactions to powders in the gloves

Some people also may develop what’s called allergic contact dermatitis or chemical sensitivity dermatitis from latex gloves. This isn’t really a reaction to latex. It’s a reaction to the chemicals added to the latex when it’s harvested, processed, or manufactured. These reactions are similar to poison ivy—a rash that starts 24 to 48 hours after contact and that may change to oozing skin blisters or spread to other areas of the skin.

Protection Against Hazards

Anyone who has shown latex sensitivity must be sure to select gloves that don’t contain latex. Always check labels carefully. Hypoallergenic does not mean latex-free.

If gloves made of other materials offer protection equal to latex, it’s a good idea to choose the latex-free gloves. That way, you reduce the chance of developing allergies or creating problems for those who are already sensitized.

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Be especially careful if you work with someone who has a latex allergy. In such instances, you shouldn’t wear latex gloves that contain powder or corn starch. Powdered gloves are easier to put on and take off. But the powder carries the latex proteins that cause allergies into the air. We may not see them, but they’ll have an effect on anyone who is already allergic and make it more likely that other people could become sensitized.

It’s also thought that powdered gloves allow more latex protein to reach the skin, making allergic reactions more likely.

When you wear gloves, get in the habit of NOT touching your skin, eyes, nose, etc., with gloved hands. Remember that gloves are worn in the workplace as a barrier against contact with infections or hazards. So even without latex concerns, make a habit of not touching yourself or anyone else with gloved hands.

And when you remove your gloves, wash your hands thoroughly.

Another important way to prevent problems is to practice very thorough housekeeping to keep latex proteins out of the air. In areas where such proteins could be released, it’s important to clean often and completely.

Why It Matters

  • Most people will never develop latex allergies. But once you do develop an allergy, you may have allergic reactions to products ranging from baby bottle nipples to the invisible latex proteins that may be in the air in a hospital or dentist’s office.
  • So it’s a good idea to minimize the risk of latex exposure, whenever possible.
  • On rare occasions, an allergic person may even have what’s known as anaphylaxis, a hypersensitivity that can send a person into shock. Some people have even died.



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