Allergies are  a hypersensitive reaction by the body to any substance that the body’s defense system considers harmful. Latex allergy occurs when the body is oversensitive to natural rubber latex.  Latex is  a natural tree based rubber. The milky liquid that comes out of these trees is processed and used in the products that we use in our daily routines.

It is the protein present in latex that produces the allergic reaction in the body. Latex allergies tend to occur in children who have had repeated surgeries. They may also be triggered by coming into contact with latex gloves or the powder that is present in these gloves. Certain children with a history of atopy are at a higher risk to develop an allergy to latex.

Many day-to-day products contain latex, such as balloons, gloves, rubber balls and bands, pacifiers, baby bottle nipples, diapers, erasers, and certain toys. Children who are allergic to bananas, avocados, kiwi fruit, potatoes, tomatoes, or chestnuts are more likely to develop a latex allergy, because the latex protein is similar to the protein present in these fruits and vegetables. Thus, children who have a history with latex allergy should avoid these foods.

SYMPTOMS OF LATEX ALLERGY

On exposure to latex, your child may show one or more of the following symptoms.  Common presentation includes:

  • Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing
  • Itching, redness and swelling of skin; hives may develop
  • Red rash on hands, arms with intense itching, warmth, burning sensation
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath in severe cases
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Shock or anaphylactic reaction

Importantly, other systems of the body may also be affected if latex powder is inhaled. This is another reason why all latex containing products should be removed from the home.

DIAGNOSIS AND MANAGEMENT

A diagnosis of latex allergy will be confirmed by a thorough history and evaluation, blood tests to check IgE antibody levels and a skin-prick test. Once confirmed, treatment mainly consists of avoidance of latex. There is no known cure for latex allergy. Absolute care should be taken to eliminate any chances of exposure to triggers in daily routine. You should throw away latex pacifiers. Remove latex containing diapers, so guest caregivers don’t accidentally use them when changing baby.

In cases of exposure to latex, treatment mainly addresses the symptoms. Antihistamines will relieve the itching.  Bronchodilators and auto-injectors of epinephrine may be needed to manage more severe reactions, such as angioedema.

PREVENTIVE STEPS TO AVOID AN ALLERGIC REACTION:

  • Avoid all latex products at all times, whether at home or in the hospital.
  • Alert your child’s healthcare provider and para-medical staff regarding latex allergy. Always use synthetic, non-latex gloves. Medicines may be given prior to surgery to avoid an allergic attack.
  • Educate the family and your child’s caregivers about what kind of items to avoid. Try to educate your child regarding the allergy and how to manage in case of an emergency attack.
  • Make your child wear some kind of medic-alert bracelet that will identify the allergy.
  • Update your child’s school and hospital records about all allergies.
  • In case of an emergency, such as when your child starts wheezing, gasps for breath, or faints, use epinephrine in injectable form. Your child should always carry an autoinjector, if your doctor has prescribed one. (At home, daycare or outside).
  • Finally, consult your doctor on how to manage an emergency situation. Allergic reactions can be sudden.

REFERENCES:

  • Gawchik SM. Latex allergy. Mt Sinai J Med. 2011 Sep-Oct. 78(5):759-72.
  • Fein JA, Selbst SM, Pawlowski NA. Latex allergy in pediatric emergency department personnel. Pediatr Emerg Care. 1996 Feb. 12(1):6-9.
  • Schottler J, Vogel LC, Sturm P. Spinal cord injuries in young children: a review of children injured at 5 years of age and younger. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2012 Dec. 54(12):1138-43.

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