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Living with a Latex Allergy

By Grant Segall

The interesting thing about latex is that it is a huge part of our society, often without being noticed. For example, carpet backing, pencil erasers, baby pacifiers, wheelchair tires, toys, balloons, and even elastic in clothing is latex. However, most people relate latex to adhesive tape used in hospitals, which is yet another example. Because so many people have latex allergy and the number of things made from latex is growing, symptoms are on the rise.

Take the healthcare industry for example - this particular area is surrounded by latex in the form of tape, surgical gloves, disposable syringes, and blood pressure cuffs. Because doctor's offices, clinics, and hospitals use so much latex, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have released results of a study that show a minimum of 12% of all healthcare workers eventually deal with some level of latex allergy. Even so, the biggest concern regarding latex allergy relates to children with disability since their small, sick bodies are highly sensitive and susceptible, putting them at greater risk.

Keep in mind that when it comes to latex allergy, there are many different forms of reaction, some minor and some major. For instance, a Type 1 latex allergy is considered as hypersensitive, which produces symptoms ranging from minor such as watery eyes and a runny nose to more severe problems that would include nausea and vomiting, hives, and shortness of breath. With Type 1, the problem is that latex particles become airborne and then inhaled.

For Type 4 latex allergy, the reaction is limited to any exposed area. This would include someone having surgery and the bandages being held on by latex tape. The result is a skin rash and irritation, swelling, and redness that typically lasts anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. Obviously, this type of latex allergy is not nearly as serious although it is quite frustrating.

Keep in mind that latex is actually a natural product that comes from a rubber tree's sap. Because it is so flexible, strong, and costs very little to manufacture, it takes first place over many similar manmade products. If you suspect that you have a latex allergy, you can see your doctor for a thorough examination and blood work. This test involves looking at a certain antibody called IgE immunoassays, which is performed through skin testing.

This particular test is currently being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and while it is highly accurate for proving latex allergy, it is not designed to determine the severity of the allergy. Therefore, in addition to the testing, if you have reaction to latex, you should avoid using it, turning instead to vinyl or plastic.

About The Author
Grant Segall RPh is a pharmacist and webmaster of the allergy related website

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