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Health workers found to be among those most at risk.

What is latex? Natural rubber latex is a natural substance produced by the Hevea Brasiliensis (rubber) tree. It is used in thousands of household, industrial and medical products. Natural rubber latex is composed of many different types of natural protei ns. A number of chemicals are added during process, most of which are removed in the washing process during the final production of a latex product.

What are latex allergies? An allergic reaction is an acquired, abnormal response of the body's immune system to a substance (in this case latex) which does not normally cause a reaction.

Latex is harmless to most people. But for some, like other things in nature such as shellfish, bee stings and peanuts, it can cause health problems.

There are two main types of allergic reaction - Type One: a reaction to the latex protein, a natural component of rubber and Type Two: a reaction to the chemicals used in processing the natural rubber products.

In all, there are three types of reactions to latex. These are:

Irritation: This presents as a dryness or cracking of the skin in areas exposed to gloves. This tends to be chronic although improves during periods when the glove is not worn and is a non-allergic reaction.

Delayed hypersensitivity - type four: This sensitisation is caused by an allergy to the accelerating agents used in manufacturing latex. Symptoms include swelling of the skin, redness, itching, cracking and thickening of the skin.

Immediate hypersensitivity - type one: This is a response to the naturally occurring proteins found in natural rubber. Symptoms include itching of the skin, hives similar to nettle rash on exposed skin; runny nose; itching of the eyes and nose; watery ey es with possible wheezing or breathlessness or asthma. Although anaphylaxis - a severe and life-threatening reaction - is rare, it can occur.

Who is at risk? Health care workers such as physicians, nurses, dentists, operating room employees, lab technicians and others who frequently wear latex gloves.

They can grow allergic to proteins in the latex. These can be made worse by the use of powder. The latex protein fastens itself to the powder and can become airborne as the gloves are taken on and off.

How many things contain latex? A lot. Balloons, balls, t-shirt slogans, computer mouse mats, condoms, rubber gloves and sneakers contain latex. Other examples include disposable nappies and the elastic on underwear.

For information on latex allergy, contact the UK Latex Allergy Support Group at PO Box 36, Cheltenham, GL52 4WY.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 21, 1998
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