Latex Allergy (cont.)
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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.
How is latex allergy treated?
Avoidance of the provoking agent (allergen), such as latex, is the most effective way to manage any allergy. Latex free synthetic rubber, such as neoprene, nitrile, SBR, Butyl, and Vitron are polymers that are available as alternatives to natural rubber. There are no naturally occurring proteins in them and they are NOT responsible for latex allergy. Labeling is extremely important, but mandatory labeling is currently not required.
Patients who are known to be allergic should avoid any product that might contain latex until the latex content is determined by contacting the manufacturer. Even products labeled "safe latex" (which indicates lower proportions of natural latex) can cause latex allergy. There is no safe latex for latex allergic sufferers. Federal legislation is pending on truth and labeling for latex products. Powderless gloves are a great help in preventing airborne latex and have been very helpful in reducing surgical exposure of latex for the health care worker and the patient. No current treatment is available to desensitize the person allergic to latex. Treatment of reactions includes antihistamines, adrenaline, and steroids.