What is a latex allergy?
If your child is allergic to latex, it means their body produces allergic antibodies directed against one or more of the proteins found in natural rubber latex. Latex allergies are very uncommon. It is estimated less than one per cent of people suffer from an allergy to latex.
Allergic responses can include:
- Hives (with direct contact to latex)
- Hay fever or asthma when inhaled
- Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic episodes).
Anaphylaxis is rare and typically occurs in the most sensitive patients after direct contact with mucous membranes such as the mouth, nose, throat, vagina, or rectum. This can occur during a surgical operation or medical procedure when latex gloves are worn.
Skin problems such as contact dermatitis caused by the use of latex and non-latex gloves are frequently confused with a latex allergy. These local skin problems are not life-threatening, but can turn into a latex allergy if exposure continues.
Known risk groups
- Patients with spina bifida or other congenital anomalies who are frequently exposed to latex as they require multiple surgical operations.
- Individuals with a history of allergic reactions to foods that cross-react with natural rubber latex (avocado, banana, chestnut, kiwi fruit, raw potato, tomato, stone fruits, hazelnut, melons, celery, carrot, apple, pear, papaya and almonds). These foods only need to be avoided if they cause problems for your child who is allergic to latex.
- More rarely, people with other allergies (eczema, hay fever and asthma) and hand dermatitis.
Where is latex found?
Latex is found in many products, particularly medical supplies such as gloves, airways, intravenous tubing, syringes, stethoscopes, catheters, dressings and bandages. Many of these products come into direct contact with mucous membranes which increases the absorption of latex proteins and can trigger an allergic reaction.
Latex is also found in as many as 40,000 consumer products including balloons, , athletic shoe soles, tyres, underwear leg and waist bands, rubber toys and baby bottle teats. However, these seem to cause problems only in the most sensitive patients.
Diagnosis and management
Allergy testing can confirm the presence of a latex allergy. Skin prick tests, blood tests and patch testing can be used.
There is no cure for latex allergy – avoidance is the best method of management. Latex substitutes do exist and can be used where required.
Tips for avoiding latex
- Notify doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals of your child’s latex allergy if they are undergoing surgery or a medical procedure.
- Contact your child’s school or daycare to advise staff of their latex allergy and request removal of any latex-containing equipment.
- Ensure your child wears their bracelet stating they have a latex allergy.
- Avoid takeaway food prepared by food handlers wearing latex gloves.
- If your child needs to wear gloves (e.g., in science class), ensure you or the school provides synthetic or vinyl gloves.
If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In an emergency, always contact 000 for immediate assistance.