Many healthcare workers report allergic reactions to latex-containing medical products,particularly latex gloves. With the implementation of standard precautions, healthcare workers’exposure to latex has increased dramatically secondary to the rising use and demand for latex.An increase in usage fueled a greater demand and may have temporarily led to changes in themanufacturing process that produced highly allergic latex products.Exposure can occur by direct contact with skin and mucus membranes, and by inhalation.
Healthcare providers need to be able to recognize the major allergic responses to latex.
are the most common adverse reaction and result from contact with a substance thateither physically or chemically harms the skin and causes dryness, chapping, or scaling. Thesereactions play a role in the latex allergic reaction because they can disrupt the skin’s integrityand allow latex (and other chemicals) to enter the body.
Delayed or Type IV
reactions are most often confined to the area of the body directly exposed tothe allergen and occur 6 to 48 hours after contact. Typical signs include redness, cracking,crusting, swelling, itching, or vesicles at the site of contact. Because these reactions aredelayed, multiple incidents may occur before an individual makes the connection to latex.
Immediate or Type I reactions
are mediated via a massive antibody response to latex.Repeated exposure to latex proteins through the respiratory tract, skin, or mucus membranesduring invasive procedures or frequent exposure to latex-containing products intensifies thebody’s production of allergen-specific antibodies until a certain threshold level is reached. Oncethis threshold is reached only one more minimal exposure may induce a severe reaction.Unfortunately, there is no way of telling when or if a person will convert from a Type IV to a TypeI reaction, so its occurrence after exposure is unpredictable. Type I symptoms can range fromsuch local complaints as itching, swelling, runny nose or abdominal cramping to severehypotension, anaphylaxis and death.The American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) identified the three followinghigh-risk groups:
patients with a history of early and/or recurrent surgical or medical procedures, such aschildren with spina bifida;
healthcare personnel and others who wear latex gloves;
individuals with occupational exposure, such as workers involved in the manufacture oflatex gloves or catheters and other latex-containing products.ACAAI also identified these less defined, but contributory risk factors:
a history of hay fever or other allergic problems;
a history of food allergies to tropical fruits, hazelnuts, chestnuts, or stone fruit,particularly if progressive in scope or severity in an individual who wears latex gloves.
Every healthcare facility will have non-latex medical products available for staff and patients.36