Natural rubber latex is a common ingredient found in many consumer products including balloons, balls, appliance cords, toys, tires, rubber bands and even shoes.  While many people come in safe contact with latex- containing products every day, others become allergic to natural rubber latex.

In hospitals and dental clinics, a lot of their supplies comprise latex. These products consist of gloves, dental dams, items employed for fitting root canals, urinary catheters, tourniquets and various equipment for resuscitation. Even so, these products have non- latex substitutes.

Latex allergy develops in some individuals after repeated exposure to products containing natural rubber latex. As in the cause in an allergy, a latex allergy arises when an individual’s immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance (called an allergen).

In this case the immune system overreacts when a dental device or supply that contains latex- such as gloves- comes into contact with the mucous membranes (the eyes, nose, or mouth) of a susceptible individual. Even the powder used on latex gloves can contain the latex proteins that become airborne when gloves are removed, causing upper airway allergic reactions or asthma symptoms in susceptible people.

Latex allergy generally develops after repeated exposure to products containing natural rubber latex. When latex containing medical devices or supplies comes in contact with mucous membranes, the membranes may absorb the latex proteins. The immune system of some at –risk individuals produces antibodies that react with these proteins.

When exposed to latex proteins, a latex sensitive individual, whether a health care worker or a patient, may experience minor symptoms, such as hives or nasal congestion. Severe cases may result in anaphylaxis. This is a dangerous reaction that causes a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the throat, tongue and nose, and even loss of consciousness. It could be life threatening if it is unattended. Emergency medical attention is needed at the first sign of anaphylactic reaction.

Although anyone can develop an allergy to latex, the number of people who do is quite small considering the millions who are exposed every day to consumer products that contain natural rubber latex. I n case of a prior allergic reaction to latex containing objects consult your physician as he/ she can determine the best strategy for dealing with it. Until that is done an allergic person should avoid contact with all latex products.

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