Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Latex Allergy Dangers Increasing

Category: Asthma and Allergy


At the recent American Academy of Allergy and Immunology in Anaheim, California, allergy scientists from around the world presented their studies and many unusual new findings and recommendations. The most scary new finding in my opinion was the high degree of latex allergy around the world. Latex allergy means a sensitivity to latex rubber products. It has increased tremendously since its' discovery in late 1970 and is now thought to be present in as much as 10 percent of health care workers probably due to the frequent wearing of latex gloves in medicine today. Patients with this type sensitivity are susceptible to possible anaphylaxis or life threatening allergic reactions if they undergo surgery themselves or if they have a heavy latex exposure. This could be exposure with a catheter if they are catheterized or condom use causing allergic reaction in either the male or the female. Another potentially dangerous work exposure is a nurse in an operating room setting who inhales tiny rubber particles when a glove is put on a surgeon's hands. The powder on the gloves fires into the air with tiny particles of rubber protein on it which seems to set off respiratory symptoms in susceptible individuals. Many warnings were given at the meeting including the need to use non-latex or non-rubber gloves for most health care workers to prevent future sensitization. This is a problem because of higher expense, less comfort, and less elasticity. Hopefully improvements in cost and quality of non-rubber products will occur soon.

A need for standardization of latex allergy testing and development of some possible treatment in the future is critical. At present there is no treatment other than avoidance. We must express warnings of how common latex allergy is becoming and a need for all of us to be on guard in the future.

One other interesting finding related to latex allergy was cross reactivity to bananas and avocados found recently in latex sensitive patients. All of this is certainly cause for alarm and should make us all careful when treating allergy patients to warn them about possible latex allergy as well as possible food allergy connections. Another scientist at the meeting reported as high as a 12 percent allergy rate to latex among one thousand random allergy patients. Among some 200 latex allergy patients studied in another allergy clinic all of these patients did not suspect latex allergy and none were considered to be from high risk groups.

An important group we have known about for the past few years include spina bifida patients. These are usually children undergoing surgery for such things as club foot repair. They may have an anaphylactic reaction during the surgery because of their latex allergy from exposure to the surgeon's rubber gloves. They are at risk if they are catheterized as well. All of these type patients must be treated in a latex free environment and this is very difficult to do with the usual modern day medical environment.

Another interesting study was done by a group of allergists in Denver who found that tiny rubber particles were found in a very high concentration in the air above their office. These were thought to be from the rubber tires of the forty-one thousand cars which passed, daily, in front of their office. About sixty percent of these air-borne particles were small enough to be inhaled.

Latex proteins are increasingly being associated with many adverse medical conditions including asthma, rashes, runny nose and life threatening anaphylaxis. These allergists question whether these types of inhaled rubber particles might correlate with the increasing prevalence and severity of asthma world wide over the past two decades, particularly in children living in urban environments. They did not prove any direct connection but their study is fascinating and I am sure it will be further researched.

The airborne particles discovered at this Allergy Respiratory Institute of Colorado included three to six thousand particles per cubic meter, compared to about ten to twenty pollen grains per cubic meter which are usually enough to cause hay fever symptoms. Time will tell whether these newly found airborne particles are a true cause of allergic disease and changes in asthma in recent history.