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Who is at risk?
Some people are born with a genetic predisposition to be allergic to latex. However, repeated exposure to latex is necessary for an allergy to develop. If a person is repeatedly exposed to latex, especially products that are "dipped," the risk of latex allergy substantially increases. Therefore, persons at risk are health care workers exposed to latex products (such as gloves and catheters), people who require frequent surgery or catheter use, and workers in the manufacturing or distribution of latex products. For unknown reasons, people who have surgeries of the spine or urinary tract have a much higher risk of latex allergy for reasons unknown.
There is also an interesting association of unique food allergy among persons allergic to latex. People allergic to latex are frequently allergic to bananas and sometimes other foods like kiwi, papaya, avocados and apricots. This association with food allergy is real, but the cause of the relationship is uncertain.
How is latex allergy detected?
Allergy to latex comes in two different forms. One form is called a "delayed hypersensitivity" which is usually seen as a skin rash at the site where the latex product contacts the skin. This rash can be quite severe. A more dangerous form of latex allergy is an "immediate reaction" to latex. This is also referred to as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can result in seriously low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, and even death. Some patients can experience irritation of the nasal passages similar to hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
To detect the delayed hypersensitivity reaction, latex, its preservatives and accelerators are placed on the skin using a standard patch test. Caution is used because an immediate reaction is possible with patch testing. To detect an immediate reaction, a blood test and skin test is available. With latex allergy, the blood test is performed first because of the potential severe reaction.