Diseases Caused by Latex or Latex-Containing Products

1. Introduction and Definitions

Latex is a natural rubber derived from the sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). It is widely used in the production of various products, including gloves, balloons, medical devices, and adhesives. While latex is highly valued for its elasticity and strength, exposure to latex or latex-containing products can cause significant health issues, particularly affecting the skin and respiratory system. This article provides comprehensive information on diseases caused by latex, targeting occupational health nurses and doctors.

2. Agent Causes the Disease

Exposure to latex can occur through direct contact with latex-containing products or inhalation of airborne latex particles. The primary health concerns associated with latex exposure are allergic reactions, which can range from mild skin irritation to severe systemic reactions. There are two main types of latex allergies:

  • Type I (Immediate) Hypersensitivity: An IgE-mediated allergic reaction that can cause severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms.
  • Type IV (Delayed) Hypersensitivity: A cell-mediated allergic reaction, also known as allergic contact dermatitis, which causes skin inflammation and itching.

3. Workers at Risk of This Disease

Several occupations and tasks put workers at higher risk of exposure to latex, including:

  • Healthcare Workers: Using latex gloves and medical devices.
  • Dental Professionals: Handling latex-containing dental dams and gloves.
  • Laboratory Technicians: Using latex gloves and equipment.
  • Cleaners and Housekeepers: Using latex gloves and cleaning supplies.
  • Food Service Workers: Handling latex gloves and food packaging.
  • Manufacturing Workers: Involved in the production of latex-containing products.

4. Symptoms

Symptoms of diseases caused by latex exposure can vary depending on the type of allergic reaction and the level of exposure:

  • Type I (Immediate) Hypersensitivity: Symptoms include hives, itching, nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, wheezing, shortness of breath, and anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention).
  • Type IV (Delayed) Hypersensitivity: Symptoms include redness, itching, blistering, and skin thickening, typically occurring 24 to 48 hours after exposure.

5. Diagnosis

Diagnosing diseases caused by latex involves a combination of clinical evaluation, occupational exposure assessment, and specific tests:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Detailed assessment of the patient's work history and symptoms.
  • Skin Prick Test: To identify immediate allergic reactions to latex.
  • Patch Test: To diagnose allergic contact dermatitis caused by latex.
  • Serological Tests: Measuring specific IgE antibodies to latex.
  • Pulmonary Function Tests: To assess lung function in cases of respiratory symptoms.

6. Treatment

Treatment for diseases caused by latex focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further exposure:

  • Remove from Exposure: Immediate removal from the source of latex exposure is crucial.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Providing medications to manage allergic reactions, such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and bronchodilators. Epinephrine should be administered in cases of anaphylaxis.
  • Supportive Care: Including hydration, rest, and monitoring of respiratory and skin health.
  • Allergen Avoidance: Avoiding further contact with latex-containing products to prevent recurrent symptoms.
  • Long-term Monitoring: Regular follow-up to monitor lung function, skin health, and overall health status.

7. Prevention

Preventing diseases caused by latex involves implementing strict control measures in the workplace:

  • Substitution: Using non-latex alternatives for gloves, medical devices, and other products whenever possible.
  • Engineering Controls: Using local exhaust ventilation and enclosed processes to reduce airborne latex particles.
  • Work Practices: Implementing safe work practices such as proper handling and disposal of latex-containing materials, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where latex is used.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Providing and ensuring the use of appropriate non-latex gloves and protective clothing.
  • Health Surveillance: Regular health screenings, including skin examinations and pulmonary function tests, for workers exposed to latex.
  • Education and Training: Informing workers about the hazards of latex and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

By recognizing the hazards of latex exposure and applying effective preventive strategies, occupational health professionals can substantially lower the occurrence of related illnesses and improve the overall health and safety of workers.

Workplace Exposure Limits: