Latex is a form of rubber and most types of medical/dental exam and surgical gloves have been made from latex rubber for decades. Natural rubber latex is a plant-based material, derived from the Hevea tree (known as the “rubber tree”). Rubber proteins are contained in latex gloves and this protein is an allergen, a substance that the human body’s immune system may react abnormally to, causing an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction.
Latex gloves that are commonly used in dentistry have natural rubber latex, cornstarch powder inside (added to help the dentist put on the glove), and numerous chemicals from the manufacturing process of the glove. Some of these chemicals, such as accelerators like mercaptobenzothaizoles (MBT’s), carbamates and antioxidants like phenols, are also allergens.
Latex allergy results directly from repeated exposure to natural rubber latex, such as having the mouth or facial skin touched by a dentist or dental hygienist wearing a latex exam glove during a routine dental visit. Research studies have shown that the powder inside a typical latex glove binds, or carries, the latex protein more easily and thus brings it into contact with the patient when the powder touches the patient’s skin or when powder particles are inhaled in the air.
Someone who already has an allergy to latex will tend to develop progressively worse allergic symptoms over time with repeated exposures. Once someone has experienced an allergic reaction to latex, they are referred to as being “sensitized” to latex and this indicates a latex allergy. The most safe and sensible thing to do to reduce or prevent future allergic symptoms is to avoid future exposure to natural rubber latex. Some types of allergic reactions can become life-threatening and even fatal.
Latex Allergy Statistics:
Approximately one percent of the general population in the U.S. (about three million people) has a latex allergy.
10 to 17 percent of healthcare workers have a latex allergy.
Up to 68 percent of children with spina bifida have a latex allergy.
Approximately 220 cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) and three deaths per year are reported due to latex allergy.
Individuals at risk for latex allergy include:
Patients who have had multiple hospitalizations and medical/dental procedures, and therefore have had repeated exposure to latex medical products.
Individuals with other kinds of allergies, or who have asthma.
Patients with spina bifida – this incidence of allergy is related to frequent surgeries and repeated exposure to latex allergens.
Workers in the rubber industry.