Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the latex surgical glove was invented and first used in 1894, officially became a latex glove-free facility in 2008.
The introduction of the latex glove to the world of surgery was tremendously beneficial in reducing infection and saving lives.
But today, with latex present in over 40,000 commonplace products from flip-flops to baby pacifiers, people are developing allergies to the substance and medical practices are turning to safer alternative materials such as nitrile or neoprene.
A latex allergy is the hypersensitivity to one or any variety of proteins found in natural rubber latex (NRL).
Like any allergy, its severity can increase with additional exposure to the irritants over time and can lead to the overwhelming of a body’s immune system. The broad range of symptoms includes contact dermatitis, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, angioedema (welts), asthma and anaphylaxis.
(Some of these cases are caused and/or exacerbated by latex proteins that are released in the air when using powdered gloves. See
The Problem with Glove Powder
There are two general categories of allergies to latex.
The first is not life threatening and has delayed symptoms which are exhibited 12 to 36 hours after contact.
Urticaria or an itchy skin rash can result from repeated skin contact with latex and is often the result of sensitization to chemicals that were added during the latex rubber processing.
The second type of allergy is immediate in its manifestation and can be very dangerous.
This is often referred to as an IgE antibody mediated allergic reaction and can result in anaphylactic shock in which the patient’s blood pressure plummets, accompanied with swelling, an irregular heartbeat and difficulty breathing.
People who have had multiple surgeries, particularly with spinal or urinary tract surgeries, have a much higher rate of latex related IgE incidents.
Those who have had multiple surgeries during childhood are also significantly susceptible.
Statistics estimate that as many as 10% to 15% of health care workers are at risk for IgE reactions and that even among the general normal adult population that rate could be as high as 6%.