What Is It?
A latex allergy is a hypersensitivity to latex, which is a natural substance made of the milky sap of the rubber tree. Latex allergies arise when the immune system, which normally guards the body against bacteria, viruses and toxins, also reacts to latex. In any type of allergy, when the immune system reacts against an otherwise harmless substance, the substance is called an allergen.
When the immune system detects the allergen, a type of antibody named immunoglobulin E (IgE) is produced, triggering the release of chemicals within the body. One chemical is histamine. Histamine is partly responsible for the redness, itching and swelling that can occur in the skin during an allergic reaction, and it produces symptoms of hives, rashes, a runny nose, and watery, swollen eyes. Histamine can also lead to breathing difficulties and a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that can include a sudden drop in blood pressure, an increase in pulse, and tissue swelling.
Latex is a flexible, elastic and relatively inexpensive material used in a number of healthcare and consumer products. Because it forms an effective barrier against infectious organisms, latex is used to make hospital and medical items, such as surgical and examination gloves and some parts of anesthetic tubing, ventilation bags, respiratory tubing and intravenous (IV) lines. In addition, it is used in making countless consumer products, including balloons, condoms, diaphragms, rubber gloves, tennis shoe soles, nipples for baby bottles and pacifiers, toys, rubber hoses and tires. Seven million metric tons of latex are used in manufacturing each year.