Updated: Apr 9, 2020
What is Latex and why is it Important?
Latex Allergies and Latex Sensitivity are very important conditions that all healthcare personal should be aware of. Latex comes from the tree known as Hevea brasiliensis, or more commonly referred to as the rubber tree. This tree produces the waxy substance (latex), under its bark. Latex is used in the manufacturing process to produce many rubber products. Some of these products may end up in doctor's offices and hospitals. Patients may have an allergy or sensitivity to latex that can cause a range of reactions. Knowing the difference between a Latex Allergy and a Latex Sensitivity will allow you to prevent these reactions and respond to these situations quickly and effectively.
Latex Sensitivity occurs due to repeated hand hygiene and exposure to latex-containing products. Latex sensitivity is caused by a condition known as contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis causes symptoms such as dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin. These areas of broken and damaged skin increase the risk of nosocomial infections (hospital-acquired). Healthcare personal should be aware of the symptoms of latex sensitivity as this condition can cause life-threatening infections. A way to avoid complications from latex sensitivity is to moisturize your hands with non-scented lotion or hand cream to prevent your skin from drying out.
Latex Allergy is a condition that completely differs from latex sensitivity as an allergy involves an immune system response. This condition is not caused by dry skin by rather just coming into contact with a product that contains latex. The body will recognize latex as a pathogen and begin to fight as if it were an infection. Symptoms of a Latex allergy include an itchy red rash and small blisters. Small blisters are common in allergic reactions and are typically contained only at the sight of exposure. If you notice these symptoms on a patient you should alert a supervising nurse or physician immediately.
Hypersensitivity to latex is a more serious form of a latex allergy. A patient with hypersensitivity to latex can create a very dangerous situation in a healthcare setting. Hypersensitivity is when a person's body has an extreme response to latex and latex-containing equipment. Symptoms of a hypersensitivity reaction include bronchospasms which can block airways making it difficult to breathe, hives on the skin, and anaphylaxis which is when the organs begin to shut down. Some of these symptoms can be life-threatening and whenever a patient starts to show any signs of hypersensitivity, a healthcare professional should be contacted immediately.
How to Prevent Latex-Related reactions?
When working in healthcare as a Phlebotomy technician, EKG technician, Patient Care Technician, or as a Medical Assistant knowing how to prevent latex related reactions can be a very useful skill. Luckily, most of the equipment used in healthcare-related procedures is latex-free especially very commonly used equipment such as gloves. However, some equipment used for X-rays, Ultrasound and medical sonography may contain latex. Begin aware of the equipment that contains latex that can help prevent these reactions. Also, asking if the patient has any allergies can allow you to know if that patient is allergic to latex or may be at high risk for having an allergy. For example, allergies to nuts, kiwis, avocado, and bananas would increase the chance for a patient to develop a latex allergy.