Latex Allergy

Erin M. Warshaw, MD

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Allergy to natural rubber latex affects people routinely exposed to rubber products. Groups thought to be at highest risk include atopics, health care workers, rubber industry workers, and individuals who have undergone multiple surgical procedures, especially those with spina bifida. Allergy to latex is a type I, immediate, IgE-mediated reaction that can lead to anaphylaxis and death. The prevalence, risk factors, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and management of latex allergy are summarized in this review.

Allergy to natural rubber latex is a relatively recently recognized major health concern. In 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alerted the medical community to the high risk of anaphylaxis to latex in individuals with spina bifida.[1] And, after receiving reports of over 1000 severe allergic reactions, including death, to natural rubber medical devices such as latex gloves and barium enema catheter tips, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a bulletin identifying the risk of anaphylaxis associated with natural rubber latex medical devices.[2] Following muscle relaxants, latex is the second most common cause of intraoperative anaphylaxis, increasing from 10% of anaphylactic reactions during surgery in 1996 to 16.6% in 2000.[3] Pretreatment with antihistamines and corticosteroids that are used successfully for the prevention of reactions to radiologic contrast material are not as effective in the prevention of anaphylactic reactions to latex,[4,5] making prevention and detection of allergy critical to preventing severe reactions.