According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of latex allergy in the general population is 1%–6% and is 8%–12% among health care workers. Health care workers and hospital employees can experience progressive sensitization to latex because of repeated occupational exposure. This sensitivity is accentuated in those with a history of atopy.
Certain medical populations are also at significant risk for this allergy, for example, patients with myelodysplasia or spina bifida and those who have undergone repeated urinary catheterization or frequent surgical procedures. A cross-reactivity with bananas, avocados, mangoes, and chestnuts has been demonstrated, and allergies to these foods and others have been associated with latex allergy. A history of reactivity to balloons also suggests a latex allergy.
Patients suspected of having latex allergy should be clearly identified, and the operating room environment made latex free. Latex is an aeroallergen and can be present in the operating room air for at least 1 hour after the use of latex gloves. Thus, whenever possible, an allergic patient should be the first case of the day. Alternatively, surgery may be performed in a latex-free surgical facility.
Excerpted from BCSC 2020-2021 series: Section 1 - Update on General Medicine. For more information and to purchase the entire series, please visit https://www.aao.org/bcsc.