We have recently noticed that the number of incidents related to dermal and respiratory symptoms have increased during the last years. This is what we call “latex allergy”.
Latex is widely used in our environment, about 40,000 everyday and professional products contain both natural and synthetic latex.
According to the information provided by Ibermutuamur, after analysing the statistical data collected from occupational pathologies derived from exposure to latex there has been a significant increase of such pathologies, where about 5% corresponds to health personnel and less than 1% corresponds to general population.
What is natural latex and synthetic latex?
Rubber (or natural latex)is obtained from the physical and chemical processing of the sap of certain species of trees, especially from the Hevea Braziliensis.
In order to get certain physiochemical and mechanical characteristics, a series of additives such as accelerators, antioxidants, plasticizers, colouring pigments, fillers, emulsifiers, softeners, perfumes, biocides, etc are added to sap.
Rubber (or synthetic latex) is created to imitate the structure and properties of natural latex. It is produced in two stages:
1) Polymerization: From a series of simple molecules, which undergo specific chemical and/or physical processes, a macromolecule with properties similar to natural latex’s is obtained.
2) As happens to natural latex, after obtaining the said macromolecule, a series of additives are added in order to get specific properties required for the material. Some of the most common additives used are neoprene, nitrile, butyl, PVC, polystyrene and polyethylene.
Types of reactions and symptomatology
In first place, we must identify the pathologies that may derive from contacting latex materials, since they could be framed as allergic processes:
a) Irritant contact dermatitis
This is a dermal alteration generated by the prolonged contact with materials containing latex, normally due to the use of latex gloves.
This alteration or irritation is a contact reaction to any of the chemical additives used during the manufacturing process of the gloves that worsens by actions that reduce the effectiveness of the natural protection of the skin, such as continuous mechanical friction, excessive sweating due to physical exercise, increase of superficial heat, non-breathable gloves, excessive hand wash with solvents or very aggressive soaps, inadequate drying of hands after wash, etc.
In just few minutes and hours after entering in contact with materials containing latex, the affected people present local dermal symptoms that are very similar to any allergy symptoms, such as redness, itching, stinging, dryness, peeling and scaling of skin.
Symptoms normally disappear with the lack of a new contact and the application of an appropriate medical treatment.
b) Latex protein allergy or Immediate Hypersensitivity (Type 1 hypersensitivity)
This allergic reaction is produced by a specific type of protein that is present in natural latex (also known as Heveine); this protein also produces the generation of antibodies called IgE in certain people who eventually become hypersensitive to objects made of this material.
People that suffers from this type of allergy are normally called “sensitised people” and the level of seriousness of their reaction may be higher or lower depending on a series of aspects such as, the level of sensitization of the person, the concentration of proteins (Heveines) within the material (not all the products containing latex have the same type and amount of proteins), as well as the area and duration of contact (mucous membranes and moist areas are the most sensitive).
The symptoms vary from mild dermal reactions in the contact area that spread to the rest of the body, mild to serious respiratory symptoms and even anaphylactic shock.
c) Latex chemical allergy or Delayed Hypersensitivity (Delayed-Type Hypersensitivity)
This allergic reaction is produced by contacting some of the additives present in the industrial processing of latex; this affects both, natural latex products and synthetic latex products.
Normally, the symptoms consist of local reactions produced in the contact area that are usually milder than those symptoms corresponding to Type 1 allergies. They normally appear 24 to 28 hours after the contact is produced: irritation, redness, swelling, scaling and diffating of skin.
The most affected areas are hands and arms, due to the use of gloves, as well as feet, due to the use of safety shoes and water boots.
Population at risk
This is the group of people whose occupation requires a greater contact with latex, than any other group of people. This population may be divided into 4 groups, according to their level of sensitivity:
1st Group: it is formed by health personnel and workers from the rubber and rubber articles industry.
2nd Group: laboratories staff, food industry staff, cleaning services personnel.
3rd Group: Gardeners, painters, ambulance assistants, hair-dressers, security forces, funerary services personnel, construction sector, etc.
There is a fourth group that should be framed within general population which consists of a subgroup of less that 1% of people that is undergoing multi-surgical interventions, long convalescence or hospitalization, people that are affected by spina bifida (congenital disorder in spinal column), people suffering from genitourinary malformation, patients under chronic treatments requiring the use of catheters and drains (dialysis, for example).
At the slightest symptom, visit your Allergist to carry out the corresponding tests in accordance with your medical history.
Treatment and prevention
Nowadays, great improvements have been achieved in the field of research for developing a vaccine and several pharmacological treatments to treat allergic reactions after their appearance, such as antihistamines, bronchodilators, corticoids, etc, as well as epinephrine for more serious cases.
However, the best treatment nowadays is prevention and avoiding any contact with products made of latex (both natural latex and synthetic latex, depending on the type of allergy). In CV Protection we are aware of this problem, therefore we offer a wide range of natural latex-free products, such as vinyl gloves, nitrile gloves, synthetic gloves, additive-free synthetic glovesand polyethylene gloves. Besides, a large part of our disposable clothing is also natural latex-free.
Hospitals (the most affected work environment), as any other workplace, are legally obliged to provide a safe work environment making the corresponding changes for those patients and personnel allergic to latex protein.
These are some of the preventive advices to be followed with regard to occupational risks:
• Replacement of products containing latex by products made of alternative materials.
• Quality control of products containing synthetic latex.
(For further information on our quality control process, please contact us)
• Suitable work procedures.
• Prepare specific latex-free health areas (for both health personnel and patients).
• Identification of people allergic to latex.
• Self-injectable epinephrine for emergencies.