Exposure to Latex Paint When You Have an Allergy

As the healthcare industry began to adopt more stringent infection-control processes and procedures in the 1980s, the number of Americans who developed an allergy to latex began to rise. This was due to increased exposure to natural rubber latex, a milky fluid derived from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, that was used to make gloves commonly used in healthcare settings. Natural rubber latex is also used in numerous other products, including balloons, rubber bands, condoms, diaphragms, rubber balls, and bandages—but it's not used in paint. 

Person's hand washing paint brushes under a faucet
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How Does Latex Allergy Develop?

Latex allergy is relatively uncommon. This is particularly true in recent years as the use of highly sensitizing powdered latex gloves has drastically declined.

In most cases, the allergy develops after many exposures to latex. Those at highest risk are healthcare workers who frequently wear latex gloves, as well as patients who have had numerous interactions with the healthcare system, Latex allergies can develop at any time—with early exposure or even after years of repeated exposure to latex.

Symptoms

People with a latex allergy can experience symptoms either from skin contact with latex or through inhalation of airborne latex fibers.

While manufacturers have replaced natural rubber latex with other synthetic materials in many healthcare products to prevent allergic reactions, it's important to be careful if you are allergic.

Symptoms can include any combination of the following:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Flushing
  • Swelling
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness

The most extreme reaction is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening medical emergency.

Does Latex Paint Pose a Risk for People With Latex Allergy?

Since there is no cure for latex allergy, people affected by this condition should take care to avoid exposure. One concern people with latex allergy may have is whether exposure to latex paint is safe.

The natural latex protein contains allergens that can cause a reaction in people who are allergic to latex. Latex paint does not contain natural latex protein. It contains synthetic latex, so it does not induce an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to latex.

Since there is no natural latex protein found in latex paint, people with latex allergies are at no increased risk of an allergic reaction from exposure to latex paint.

Many companies have proposed changing the name of latex paint to avoid using the word latex.

Symptoms of Latex Paint Exposure

Latex paint certainly poses other risks to people and the environment, although this is not a result of a latex allergy. Latex paint contains various chemicals that can cause contact dermatitis and can release potentially toxic fumes that can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory problems. Many people do not experience these symptoms, but people who are allergic to latex are not at an increased risk of these symptoms.

Inappropriate disposal of latex paint can also harm the environment by posing a risk to fish and wildlife. For these reasons, latex paint should be used with proper precautions, such as painting in a well-ventilated area, using a mask and goggles, and disposing of leftover paint in an approved manner.

3 Sources
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  1. Agarwal N, McDonnell S, Khan W. Management of latex hypersensitivity in the perioperative setting. J Perioper Pract. 2020 Jul;30(7-8):199-203. doi:10.1177/1750458919882222

  2. Henry N, Icot R, Jeffery S. The benefits of latex-free gloves in the operating room environment. Br J Nurs. 2020 May 28;29(10):570-576. doi:10.12968/bjon.2020.29.10.570

  3. Kales SN, Lee EC. Pseudo-latex allergy associated with "latex" paint exposure: a potential cause of iatrogenic disability. J Occup Environ Med. 2006 Jan;48(1):83-8. doi:10.1097/01.jom.0000184882.67947.58

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