Latex Allergies

Did you know…Latex is found in many products in our homes as well as in health care. Latex is the milky fluid derived from the rubber tree. The first use of latex surgical gloves was in the late 1800’s by Dr. William Halstead, a well know surgeon. Latex has been used in countless medical devices for years. In order to prevent the transmission of blood-borne pathogens, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) universal precautions were introduced in 1987.1,2 Since the introduction of universal precautions health care providers have increasingly used latex gloves whenever performing invasive medical procedures.

Allergy to natural rubber latex is a serious concern for healthcare workers, as well as the general population. Latex allergies have no racial and ethnic boundaries, and it can affect males or females anytime during their lives. Latex sensitization can occur after skin or mucosal contact, after peritoneal contact during surgery, and possibly after inhalation of aerosolized particles with latex on their surfaces.2

Allergies to natural rubber latex can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. “Health care workers and others who experience repeated exposure to latex allergens can develop a latex sensitivity or allergy. Several hundred cases of severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis and 17 deaths have been reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”The most common item in health care facilities contributing to the latex sensitizations is powdered latex gloves.2

Currently, there is no known cure for latex allergies. The only successful preventive approach at this time is latex avoidance. Efforts aimed at eliminating latex exposure and decreasing the chance of reactions is vital in prevention. Health care providers and organizations must try to prevent latex sensitization by creating a safe environment where patients are treated and where healthcare personnel work. Individuals with latex-allergies should be counseled about the risk of working in environments with high latex use. These individuals should use only non-latex gloves and avoid all products containing latex.2

Reactions to latex allergies can be an irritant reaction, a delayed hypersensitivity reaction and/or an immediate hypersensitivity reaction. Some individuals may present with a single complaint or a combination of all three reactions. If any type of latex-associated reaction is experienced, a qualified health care provider (e.g. dermatologist) should be consulted in order to evaluate the individual.2

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has very comprehensive Latex Guidelines which can be used as a resource by facilities developing latex-safe policies, procedures, and protocols.

Rose Seavey MBA, BS, RN, CNOR, CRCST, CSPDT

  1. Behrman, A et all, Latex Allergy.  Accessed 9/15/2012 at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/756632-overview
  2. AORN Latex Guidelines.  Accessed 9/15/20012 at  http://www.aornjournal.org/article/S0001-2092(06)60918-6/fulltext

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