Latex allergy is a problem that is increasing in frequency as the use of latex increases in the general population. Reactions to latex can range from skin irritation (dermatitis), hives or welts (urticaria), trouble breathing due to swelling of the throat or chest tightness and wheezing.
Health care workers, people that have undergone numerous surgeries, and allergic people in general are at higher risk of developing a latex allergy. At this time, the best way to detect a latex allergy is by ordering a blood test called Immunoglobulin E RAST for latex. If it is positive, it is very important to avoid all exposure to latex. In these cases, contact with latex can be life threatening.
The majority of latex comes from the country of Malaysia. Latex comes from the Hevea Brazilinsis tree. The tree is cut and sap is collected like maple syrup into a bucket. The latex is taken to the factory and processed where various chemicals are added. Latex allergy was first seen in children with spina bifida.
Frequent catheterization of the bladder can lead to sensitization to latex and some patients develop anaphylaxis, or severe reactions. Another group of patients that have reported severe allergic reactions were identified to have used latex tipped enemas. The catheters and enema tips were changed to silicone to avoid sensitization and to decrease the chance of causing an allergic reaction.
As the HIV/AIDS epidemic developed, latex use increased rapidly and the preparation time for latex products was reduced. This led to an increase in latex protein present in latex products. This allowed individuals to have more exposure to latex protein and vulnerable individuals began to have serious reactions.
Approximately 13% of health care workers have a latex allergy. In the general population, it is estimated that 3% of individuals have a latex allergy. There are also a group of individuals that have negative reactions to the chemicals used in the processing of latex.
Individuals with a latex allergy have an increased chance of developing an allergy to avocados, kiwi, and hazelnuts.
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