It is estimated that one out of every seven healthcare professionals has latex allergy, although there is a low prevalence of latex allergy in the general population.
An exact cause of latex allergy has not yet been proven, but the most commonly accepted hypothesis is that exposure to latex allergen and rubber latex chemicals causes sensitization. The best way to avoid developing the allergy is to not use latex products at all.
There are three main types of reactions to latex. Only two of them can correctly be termed allergies. It is important for people with skin irritation who frequently contact natural rubber products to determine whether skin reactions are an irritation or allergy. Only after diagnosis can proper steps be taken to remedy the condition.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
This reaction is characterized by dry, crusty skin with papules, cracks or sores. This is the most common reaction and is perceived as an allergy. It is not an allergy. Up to 35% of the gloving population will be affected at some time during glove usage. The cause is frequently attributed to glove usage, but its cause may have nothing to do with gloves. Frequent hand washing, strong scrubbing agents, soaps, detergents and glove powder are probable causes.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis -Type IV
This reaction is a true sensitivity. It is a skin reaction to residual chemicals used in the manufacturing process. This allergy is a Type IV, delayed-type cell mediated hypersensitivity.
This reaction is local, appearing only where the skin was exposed to rubber. It appears several hours to several days after contact with the offending chemical. Once an individual is sensitized to a specific chemical, contact with even small amounts of the chemical can result in recurrence of the rash.
Many chemicals are used in the manufacture of gloves, both latex and non-latex. A reaction may occur with a non-latex glove because the glove has the same chemical in it as a latex glove.
Immediate Allergic Reaction - Type I
This is the most serious reaction to latex. The allergen is a natural protein present in the latex from the rubber tree. It is not eliminated during the manufacturing process and is still present in the latex product.
Steps during the manufacturing process can be taken to remove much of the protein. The protein is water-soluble and rubs off the latex surface easily. This is why the protein is transferred to the glove powder. The glove powder is easily airborne and results in the spread of the allergen throughout the area where gloves are used.
Exposure to the airborne powder can explain the histamine and other more serious symptoms exhibited by some latex sensitive individuals. Symptoms of Type I reactions vary from mild urticaria (wheal and flare reaction, hives) and eczema to rhinitis, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, respiratory distress, asthma or anaphylaxis.
If you have already been diagnosed as having latex allergy, you should completely avoid contact with latex products. It is also recommended that your coworkers refrain from using powdered gloves, as many of the allergens are found in the powder, and can get into the air.
Quantum offers powder free latex, powder free vinyl, and nitrile gloves to do so. There is no cure for the already sensitized individual. In some extreme cases, latex allergy can be a career threatening disability.