Latex gloves offer protection to both the doctors as well as the patients by acting as a barrier. Gloves prevent the direct contact of the skin with blood, microorganisms or other body fluids. There are two varieties of these gloves, the vinyl gloves and the latex gloves. Latex gloves are commonly used as they serve as effective barriers without any leaking properties. They are very comfortable to wear and are also inexpensive.
Apart from the benefits, latex gloves also have certain side effects. Extensive use of latex gloves due to increase in diseases such as AIDS also reported an increase in the number of latex allergy cases. Health care workers, who use latex gloves to a great extent, are at high risk of developing allergic responses against natural latex particles.
Individuals with a reactive immune system respond to natural latex, cornstarch powder and other chemicals used in the making of these gloves. When sensitive individuals get exposed to these allergens for the first time, they become sensitized and show similar symptoms during subsequent exposures.
Three types of reactions are seen in individuals allergic to latex.
Irritant dermatitis: though not an allergic reaction, it is observed in many people who use latex gloves. This is due to frequent hand washing and abrasive action of the latex particles on the skin surface. This reaction is not that very dangerous. But, neglected irritant dermatitis results in formation of cracks in the skin through which latex particles penetrate sensitizing the individual for latex allergies.
Delayed cutaneous hypersensitivity: this is an allergic reaction manifested within 6 to 48 hours of exposure to the latex particles. This is not very dangerous. But, people with type four hypersensitivity reactions can show type I hypersensitivity reaction that is a bit dangerous.
Immediate reaction: as the name indicates, the allergic response develops within thirty minutes of exposure to the allergens. This is a type I hypersensitivity reaction which is very dangerous. Some people may develop anaphylactic shock. This type of reaction can develop by contact of allergen through various routes such as inhalation, direct contact and parenteral route.
Some of the symptoms commonly seen in latex allergy include itchy and red watery eyes, coughing, skin rashes and shortness of breath in some individuals.
All latex gloves do not cause same degree of allergic reactions. This is due to the difference in the chemicals used in their manufacturing and the extent of processing done before they are used. Soaking the gloves for sometime before using gets rid of the cornstarch powder and reduces the amount of free latex proteins.
Diagnosis of latex allergies is done initially with the symptoms expressed by the patient. To confirm the case of latex allergy, latex-specific Ig E testing and skin prick testing are used. If the individual does not develop any reaction to the anti-Ig E antibodies then it is confirmed that the individual has circulating Ig E antibodies specific to latex proteins. The only cure for latex allergy reaction is to avoid contact with the latex particles.