Latex Allergy


Source: Reddy S. Am J Fam Pract 1998;57:93-100.

Natural latex from the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis is an allergen in persons with significant cumulative latex exposure, such as those in the health care and rubber industries, as well as those undergoing repeated surgeries, especially if they undergo surgeries early in life. Symptoms of latex allergy may progress rapidly and unpredictably to anaphylaxis. The prevalence of latex allergy has increased as the use of rubber gloves in health care settings has increased. Airborne latex particles that adhere to the cornstarch used to powder gloves are a significant cause of respiratory symptoms and a source of sensitization. Once an individual has become sensitized, he or she may experience allergic symptoms when exposed to any product containing latex. Diagnosis is made initially by the history. Latex-specific IgE testing and skin prick testing may confirm the suspicion. The most effective strategy in the treatment of latex allergy is avoidance; however, there is a large group of sensitized people who have not been identified and who do not recognize that their symptoms are caused by latex allergy.


Physicians caring for latex-sensitive persons must act as their advocates in building awareness of the problem and developing protocols for their safe care. Latex-sensitized persons should be educated about the latex content of common objects. (Dr. Pearson is Professor of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine.)