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Latex (Natural Rubber or NRL) Allergy Information

Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center strives to maintain a safe environment for its patients, visitors and employees. Policies and precautions have been developed specific to latex allergy/sensitivity which are closely monitored and strictly followed.

There are over 40,000 products that contain natural rubber latex. Because latex products are unavoidable in a hospital environment it can be difficult to completely prevent patient exposure. Avera McKennan will take every possible precaution to ensure a latex safe environment for individuals identified with latex sensitivity.

Please notify your health care providers, including nurses, laboratory, and admitting staff if you know you have a sensitivity or allergy to latex products.

Latex Allergy FAQ

Following are the most frequently asked questions concerning latex allergies.

What is latex allergy?

Latex allergy, or sensitivity, occurs when the body's immune system reacts to proteins found in natural rubber latex (NRL). NRL should not be confused with butyl- or petroleum-based synthetic rubbers. Synthetic products, including latex house patients, have not been shown to pose any hazard to latex-sensitive individuals.

How common is latex allergy?

It is estimated that 1-6% of the general population has latex allergy (compared to 5-10% of health care workers).

How does one become allergic to latex?

The tendency to develop allergies in inherited. Latex allergy is directly proportional to the frequency and degree of exposure. If you are like most people with latex allergy, you probably have other allergies as well. People with latex allergy are often also allergic to banana, avocado, kiwi or chestnut.

What are the common sources of possible latex exposure?

Latex is found in many medical environments but is also common around the house. Glance at this chart to see some common latex sources.

Medical Latex Sources Household Latex Sources
gloves balloons
urinary catheters toys
syringes rubber bands
adhesive tapes bandages
stethoscope erasers
dental devices rubber hand grips (bikes, tools)
electrode pads elastic on clothing

What are the symptoms of latex allergy?

Symptoms of latex allergy can be mild such as itchy, red, watery eyes, sneezing or runny nose, coughing, rash or hives. It can also be very severe with symptoms like chest tightness, shortness of breath and shock, some of which can be life-threatening. A latex-sensitive person can have a life-threatening allergic reaction with no previous warning or symptoms.

How can I be certain I am allergic to latex?

See a physician trained and experienced in caring for latex allergy. The physician will take a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may give you a skin test or perform a blood test. However, since severe reactions can result from an extremely tiny amount of allergen, most doctors currently base their diagnosis on the result of a thorough medical history, physical examination and blood tests.

How can I prevent latex allergy?

  1. Learn to recognize the symptoms of latex allergy.
  2. If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, avoid direct contact with latex
    gloves and products until you can see a physician trained and experienced
    in treating latex allergy.
  3. If you have latex allergy, avoid areas where you might inhale the powder
    from latex gloves or products. Remember, inhaling latex proteins
    from latex products is harmful, even if you do not touch the product.
  4. Tell your employers, physicians, nurses and dentists that you have latex
    allergy.
  5. Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

How can latex allergy be treated?

There is no cure for latex allergy, although medications can provide symptomatic relief. The cornerstone of management is awareness, education and avoidance. Allergists are trained and experienced in the management of latex allergies. The physician caring for the latex-allergic person must act as both advocate and educator to bring more awareness to this condition.

What does Avera McKennan do to protect me?

  • Identify patients at risk
    Upon admission, each patient/parent will be asked if they have a known sensitivity to natural rubber latex or other allergens, known or unknown, i.e., bananas, avocados, kiwi, etc.. If it is determined the patient may be latex sensitive or at risk, the nurse will inform the physician and the physician will determine if the patient is latex sensitive. Latex allergy precautions will be initiated until diagnosis can be determined.
  • Secure a latex-safe environment during patient's stay
    Every effort will be taken to secure a latex-safe environment for the patient. This includes removing all latex products from the patient's room; notifying other departments of the patient's sensitivity (dietary, pharmacy, CSR, surgery, radiology, etc.); flagging the patient's chart, door of room, and identifying wrist band; utilizing the latex order set and obtaining the latex safe product list from the computer.
  • Provide patient education
    Prior to discharge, the patient will receive a latex allergy education pamphlet and will be advised to wear an allergy identification band at all times. Common products that contain latex will be reviewed with the patient and family. The patient will be instructed to inform personnel at labs, dentist and physician offices, and beauticians/barbers, etc., prior to scheduled appointments to ensure latex-free products are available for their use. Additional educational resources will be provided to obtain further information regarding support groups, websites, etc.

Additional Information

If you have more questions about latex allergies or if you think you might be at risk, contact our main line at 605-322-8000.