A person pulls on latex gloves while their wrists erupt in a rash and flames.

My Years of Issues With Latex

I have been aware of my latex sensitivity for many years. It’s not the kind that is a true allergy and it won’t show up in an immunoglobulin E (IgE) allergy test. But I do know I need to be very careful as repeated exposure increases sensitivity and it could become a true allergy.

First noticing my latex sensitivity

One of the first times I realized latex might be my problem was a dental visit many years ago. The dentist used a dental dam while doing a root canal. Probably latex gloves as well. I noticed the beginning of the itchy red rash a day or so later. Thank goodness there are now alternatives for a lot of these products, although some are still being made with latex. As a side note, spandex doesn’t contain latex, it is made from a synthetic.

Types of reactions to natural rubber latex

There are three types of reactions to natural rubber latex:

  • IgE-mediated allergic reactions (Type I). These are true allergic reactions involving the immune system and they can be life threatening.
  • Cell-mediated contact dermatitis (Type IV)
  • Irritant dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis is a classic example of cell-mediated dermatitis. Four out of five people who develop an IgE-mediated latex allergy will have contact dermatitis first.1

Wearing cotton gloves

My years as a painter had probably done most of the damage. Although I wore cotton gloves inside the rubber gloves at work, I still often had a reaction. I learned to wear long sleeves to keep my wrists covered, as there were no glove liners long enough. Occasionally I cut the ends off of the rubber gloves so they would protect my hands and fingers from the chemicals, but not irritate my wrists. Many jobs required only cotton gloves, thank goodness. Latex paint contains synthetic latex, so that wasn’t a problem. I found the chemicals needed to clean my hands were very irritating and drying, so tried to keep gloves on as much as possible. A dermatologist I saw at that time suggested carrying my own small towel in my toolbox as paper towels contained formaldehyde.

Surgeries with a latex sensitivity

Around 15 years ago when I had my first hip replacement surgery, I discovered how serious a latex sensitivity really is. Anyone with a latex sensitivity would always have the first surgery of the day to avoid the chance of any latex proteins from previous surgeries being airborne. One benefit though is that a private room is automatic, as is a designated nurse. There is a very strict protocol for dealing with a latex allergy.

If you have a true IgE allergy to latex, you have a greater chance of also being allergic to certain foods. Avocados and bananas top the list.

Non-latex gloves

New cases of latex allergy are not as common now as they were when I was still working. In the past, the non-latex gloves were not as flexible as they are today, with less sensitivity for the user. Now, most healthcare professionals use non-latex gloves and products where possible. But in some situations, other latex products such as tubings and dressings, even syringes, are still being used. Diligence is always needed.

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