Skip to Content

LATEX ALLERGY

RECOMMENDATIONS for PREVENTION OF LATEX ALLERGY

Latex allergy has increased in the last 10 years, and occurs with relatively high frequency in certain at risk populations, especially health care workers, certain patients, and workers who may be required to use latex products in their day-to-day work environment. Reducing latex exposure to the maximum extent possible minimizes sensitization and development of new latex allergy cases.

There are three types of reactions that can occur in persons using latex. The most common reaction to latex products is irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is the development of dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin, usually the hands. This reaction is caused by irritation from wearing gloves and by exposure to the powders added to them. This reaction is caused by skin irritation from using gloves and possibly by exposure to other workplace products or chemicals. Irritant contact dermatitis is not a true allergy. Allergic contact dermatitis also called chemical sensitivity dermatitis, results from exposure to chemicals added to latex during harvesting, processing or manufacturing. These chemicals cause skin reactions similar to those caused by poison ivy. The rash usually begins within 24 to 48 hours after contact and may progress to oozing skin blisters or spread away from the area of skin touched by the latex. Latex allergy also known as immediate hypersensitivity, can be a more serious reaction to latex than the other forms mentioned above. Certain proteins in latex may cause sensitization. Although the amount of exposure needed to cause sensitization or symptoms is not known, exposures at even very low levels can trigger allergic reactions in some sensitized individuals.

Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure to latex, but they can occur hours later and can produce various symptoms. Mild reactions to latex involve skin redness, hives or itching. More serious reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and asthma (difficulty breathing, coughing spells and wheezing). Rarely, shock may occur; but a life threatening reaction is seldom the first sign of latex allergy. Such reactions are similar to those seen in some allergic person after a bee sting.

The University's Environmental Health and Safety Committee (EHSC) recommends the following:

  • Use of nitrile gloves for general laboratory use. If you are uncertain whether or not nitrile gloves are compatible for the chemicals you use in your laboratory, contact Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (215-898-4453) for help in selecting the appropriate glove.

     

  • Use of latex-free products whenever they are available (ie.: torniquets, oral and nasal airways, intravenous tubing, goggles, surgical masks, rubber aprons, etc.).

     

  • Implementing the following NIOSH recommendations for preventing latex allergy in the workplace. These recommendations are based on current knowledge and a common sense approach to minimizing latex related health problems. Adoption of the recommendations, wherever feasible, will contribute to the reduction of exposure and risk for the development of latex allergy:
    1. The routine use of latex gloves by food handlers, housekeepers, transport and medical personnel in low risk situations (e.g. food handling) is strongly discouraged. If you must use latex gloves, choose powder free gloves with reduced protein content. Only low-antigen latex gloves should be purchased and used. This may reduce the occurrence of reactions among sensitized personnel and should reduce the rate of sensitization.
    2. Use appropriate work practices to reduce the chance of reactions to latex.
      1. when wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions, which can cause glove deterioration, unless they have been shown to reduce latex related problems and maintain glove barrier protection.
      2. after removing latex gloves, wash hands with mild soap and dry thoroughly.
      3. use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace.
    3. Take advantage of all latex allergy education and training provided.

If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, avoid direct contact with latex gloves and other latex-containing products. Contact Occupational Medicine, HUP RAVDIN 2nd floor, phone: 215-662-2354 for evaluation.

References

  1. NIOSH Alert: Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace, National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety [NIOSH].
  2. NIOSH: Occupational latex Allergies, National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety [NIOSH].

back to top