The Truth About Latex Allergies
Allergy season is here. June is peak pollen season for many plants, meaning those who suffer from allergic rhinitis are left sneezing with itchy eyes.
In the elastomer industry, allergy season never ends. Latex allergies are active all year round, and while they are well-known, they are still often misunderstood.
Many substances, like some household paints or types of gloves, require latex labeling but may not incite an allergic reaction at all. On the other hand, sometimes products labelled “latex-free” can result in latex allergic reactions. The true source of latex allergic reactions is the presence of a protein found in latex extracted from certain plants. The protein acts as an antigen, resulting in an immunological response that varies by individual. For some people this response can be as serious as anaphylactic shock, which could be fatal. For others, latex exposure results in varying severity levels of dermatitis (ex: hives, rash, itchy skin). The American Latex Association states less than one percent of the U.S. general population is sensitive to latex proteins.
The type of latex that provokes reactions is most often collected from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, but can also be harvested from other plants, including dandelions. The plants produce specific proteins as a defense against microbial threats. Other plants have similar defenses; many of those sensitive to Hevea proteins find they are also sensitive to certain foods such as avocado, banana, chestnut and kiwi. Those with latex allergies typically do their best to avoid Hevea latex, and sometimes barriers such as cloth liners or creams are enough to stifle latex allergy reactions.
Since the risk of unexpected exposure to latex has been reduced through labeling requirements, harvested natural rubber latex remains an important industrial material. Natural latex rubber is an inexpensive yet durable elastomer that resists tears and abrasions. It has a long service life as it has low internal friction and consistent elongation. It is also environmentally sustainable, as rubber trees can be tapped for latex for up to 30 years and natural rubber latex is biodegradable. Natural rubber latex is common in many commercial products and applications
For situations where extremely sensitive individuals may be exposed to latex, such as medical procedures, synthetic rubber and styrenic-based thermoplastic elastomer can be suitable alternatives. It’s important to note that individuals can be allergic to compounds in synthetic elastomers as well, such as thiuram disulfide, an additive that speeds polymerization. Those who have had consistent exposure to an allergen tend to be more susceptible to allergic reactions. This is why healthcare workers and patients in poor health tend to be most susceptible to latex allergies.
Thorough knowledge of elastomer manufacturing and diligent labeling are the easiest ways to prevent latex allergy complications. Enlisting the help of Hygenic to help address latex concerns early in the material selection process can reduce the risks associated with latex products.