Latex allergies are far more prevalent than many people might realize. In fact, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration figures that as much as 6% of the population is allergic to latex. This number actually increases when looking at the healthcare industry, where up to 12% of people could have a sensitivity to the substance.
You would think the threat would be mitigated when a product includes such statements as “does not contain latex” or “latex-free.” After all, this sends a signal to a sensitive individual that that product should be safe to make contact with. However, as the Food and Drug Administration explains in a new report, these statements aren’t always accurate.
That’s because there are currently no tests (at least to the FDA’s knowledge) that can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that an item is completely free of natural rubber latex proteins. Ten days ago, the FDA sought to take steps to eliminate the aforementioned latex-free language by issuing draft guidance that will now be opened up to comments from the public. In its place, they would like to see statements relating the fact that the items were not made with natural rubber latex, rather than stating that they don’t contain latex.
This move aims to address the idea that even when latex was not used as an ingredient in the making of a product, it could have contaminated a certain item at some point. The FDA also hopes to make a distinction between natural rubber latex proteins, which can cause an allergic reaction, and synthetic latex, which does not due to its not having those proteins.
So just what types of items could pose a danger to those with latex sensitivities? As you may have guessed, medical products are those which most typically are comprised of latex in some regard. Bandages, gloves, crutches, sanitary napkins, condoms, catheters and more could all contain at least some latex. And the more one tends to make contact with latex products, the greater their chances of developing some sort of sensitivity. That could explain why a higher percentage of medical workers seem to have this sensitivity compared to the rest of the population.
The CDC explains that there are things an allergic person can do to mitigate their risk. Healthcare workers are advised to refrain from using natural rubber latex gloves unless there’s a chance they’re going to be contacting something infectious. When you must use them, make sure you don’t use an oil-based lotion or a glove that contains powder, as these can increase your exposure. Finally, wash your hands after usage, and know what side effects to look out for. When one experiences an allergic reaction, that reaction can manifest in the form of itching, hives or a rash, breathing difficulties, and in very rare instances, shock or even a fatality.