Latex Allergy in Children

What is Latex Allergy
Latex is a natural product which comes from the light milky fluid that is extracted from the rubber tree. This milky fluid is often modified during the manufacturing process to form a latex mixture. A child can be allergic to the latex or the mixture or both. Latex-containing products are many and varied: Band-Aids, rubber bands, erasers, some shoes and articles of clothing, balloons, surgical gloves, catheters, condoms, some items of sporting equipment , blood pressure cuffs, some watch bands, helmets, tooth brush massagers, bowling balls and ventilator tubing.

Some Children at an Increased Risk of Latex Allergy
Some children are born with a genetic predisposition to be allergic to latex. However, repeated exposure to latex is necessary for an allergy to develop. If a child is repeatedly exposed to latex, especially products that are “dipped,” the risk of latex allergy substantially increases. Children who have frequent exposure to latex from numerous medical procedures are at risk. The most at risk include children with spina bifida, children born with abnormalities of the urinary system and children who have had multiple surgeries. Children who have allergies to certain foods may also develop a latex allergy. Commonly eaten foods that contain some of the same proteins as latex include bananas, avocados, chestnuts, kiwi, passion fruit, papaya, figs, peaches, nectarines, plums, tomatoes and celery.

How is Latex Allergy Detected
Allergy to latex comes in two different forms. One form is called a “delayed hypersensitivity” which is usually seen as a skin rash at the site where the latex product contacts the skin. This rash can be quite severe. A more dangerous form of latex allergy is an “immediate reaction” to latex. This is also referred to as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can result in seriously low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, and even death.

To detect the delayed hypersensitivity reaction, latex, its preservatives and accelerators are placed on the skin using a standard patch test. Caution is used because an immediate reaction is possible with patch testing. To detect an immediate reaction, a blood test and skin test is available. With latex allergy, the blood test is performed first because of the potential severe reaction.

Treatment of Latex Allergy
Avoidance of the provoking agent (allergen), such as latex, is the most effective way to manage any allergy. Latex free synthetic rubber, such as neoprene, nitrile, SBR, Butyl, and Vitron are polymers that are available as alternatives to natural rubber.

Children who are known to be allergic should avoid any product that might contain latex until the latex content is determined by contacting the manufacturer. Even products labeled “safe latex” (which indicates lower proportions of natural latex) can cause latex allergy. Treatment of reactions includes antihistamines, adrenaline, and steroids.