Occupational Allegies - Latex Allergy

Some people suffer from real allergic reactions to the workplace. Allergic reactions to workplace allergens - agents that cause allergies - may result in occupational asthma as well as rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes). The symptoms of Occupational Allergies are coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million people could be affected by Occupational Allergies. At present, over 200 workplace allergens have been linked to this disorder. Some cases of Occupational Allergies show up immediately while others take one to three years.

In the last decade, the latex used to make gloves has emerged as a potent allergen and a leading cause of Occupational Allergies. Since the outbreak of AIDS, millions of health care workers continue to wear latex gloves. Occupational Allergies also affects the workers who manufacture the latex gloves. Latex-allergic workers are at risk of serious reactions if they eat chestnuts, kiwi, avocados, or bananas, due to similar antigens in these foods and latex. They are also at risk when in contact with someone else - such as a dentist - who is wearing latex gloves. Allergic reactions to latex range from as mild as watery eyes or as severe as shock. Latex products give rise to a wide range of other allergic reactions including, shortness of breath, sneezing, nasal blockage, coughing, hives, faintness, nausea and vomiting.

Occupational asthma is suspected when a worker has a history of coughing and wheezing at work - but the symptoms improve on weekends or vacations. Chest x-rays are taken to rule out the presence of such conditions as pneumonia and bronchitis. If they are not found, skin tests are the next step. Skin tests are done by an allergist. It consists of pricking the skin with trace amounts of allergens identified in the workplace. If the skin shows an allergic reaction to one of the allergens, it's a strong indication of Occupational Allergies. It is then confirmed by the allergist that the allergen decreases the patient's lung function and ability to breathe.

The occupations at the highest risk for latex allergy are health care workers and rubber workers. Health care workers have frequent exposure to latex gloves that may be coated with cornstarch. Latex particles sticking to the cornstarch fly into the air when the gloves are put on and when they are removed.

If you are a health care worker, it is important that your co-workers are aware of your allergy and wear latex gloves that are not coated with cornstarch. It is also important that you wear a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace.

An allergist can help to identify if your symptoms are related to latex allergy and whether you should continue to work in your present environment.

If you have any further questions please contact our hotline:

Ellen Epstein, M.D.
Advanced Allergy and Asthma, PLLC.
Adult and Pediatric Allergy
165 N. Village Ave. - Suite 141
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
516-678-0056

Dr. Epstein is affiliated with Long Island Jewish Medical Center, South Nassau Communities Hospital and Franklin Hospital Medical Center.

 

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