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Latex Allergy Basics – What You Need to Know

What is a Latex Allergy? 

Latex is the natural sap of the rubber tree (Hevea Brasiliensis). It is used to make natural rubber, which is used in the production of forty thousand industrial products used in the USA. About four hundred of these products are used on a routine basis in hospitals. Latex products contain two types of compounds that cause medical problems: added chemicals such as antioxidants, which cause dermatitis, either irritant or Type IV reactions, and natural proteins, which cause systemic potentially life-threatening allergic reactions (Type I reactions). 

Symptoms include: dermatitis, rashes, hives, hayfever-like symptoms, swelling, asthma and in rare cases collapse. 

Who Is at Risk? 

Patients, especially special needs children, who have multiple repeated exposures to latex, usually through mucosal exposure, are at the highest risk for developing latex allergy. The Spina Bifida Association of America and the FDA estimate that as many as 65% of children with spina bifida, already have latex allergy. Lesser incidences, but still above 25%, occur in all patients with spinal injuries, children with multiple congenital defects, especially urinary tract defects and any child that has had three or more surgeries (33%). These incidences have risen alarmingly over the last 5 years and continue to rise. 

Diagnosis 

The diagnosis of latex allergy is made by a combination of history and tests. If you suspect that your child has latex allergy, you and your child need to be seen by an allergist who is experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of latex allergy. Many allergists use the skin test, but sufferers of latex allergy prefer to start with the blood test. The blood test is risk free and almost as reliable as the skin test. Listen carefully to your child. We know of one case where a three-year-old child refused to enter the ladies’ hairdressers, but would enter the barber shop. He had latex allergy and realized he was reacting to the latex gloves used in the ladies’ shop! 

Food Allergies 

Many of the proteins that cause latex allergy are also found in fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals. Kiwi, passion fruit, cherries, papaya, banana, avocado, fig, peaches, nectarines, plums, tomato, celery and chestnuts.