Natural rubber latex comes from the sap of the rubber tree. Allergic reactions to latex products occur because certain people become allergic to the various proteins in natural rubber latex. Latex is found in many products including balloons, tyres, shoes, grips on tools and sporting equipment, and is a common part of medical and dental equipment such as disposable gloves, rubber dams, tubing, catheters and many other products.
People may react to rubber products in a number of ways. Those who need to wear rubber gloves frequently as part of their occupation may develop an irritant hand dermatitis that results from heat, sweating and friction. This is not an allergic response.
Another group of people develop an allergic contact dermatitis. This is caused by a sensitivity to chemicals used in the manufacture of the rubber products. This causes an eczema- like reaction most commonly on the hands but also at other sites of contact with the rubber product. While this can be very uncomfortable, this type of reaction does not cause anaphylaxis or symptoms of an immediate allergic reaction.
Immediate allergic reactions to latex may be serious and can result in anaphylaxis (a generalized, severe allergic reaction). Some people are at a higher risk of developing latex allergy, especially if they have other allergies such as atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis(hay fever) or certain food allergies.
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Content updated January 2017