Exposure to Latex Paint When You Have an Allergy

As the healtcare 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. 

Person's hand washing paint brushes under a faucet
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Latex Allergy Development

Latex allergy is relatively uncommon. This is particularly true in recent years as use of the highly sensitizing powdered latex gloves has drastically declined. In most cases, it develops after many exposures to latex, which is why healthcare workers who wear latex gloves, as well as patients who have had numerous interactions with the healthcare system, are often at much higher risk for developing this allergy. In fact, people with spina bifida have some of the highest rates of latex allergy because they are exposed to natural rubber latex on a regular basis, both during surgery as well as due to bladder and bowel management methods employing the use of latex tubing, gloves, and catheters.

While manufacturers have replaced natural rubber latex with other synthetic materials in many healthcare products to prevent allergic reactions, those with the condition remain concerned about exposure. People with a latex allergy can experience symptoms either from skin contact with latex or through inhalation of airborne latex fibers. Symptoms can include hives, itching, flushing, swelling, sneezing, runny nose, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, dizziness, or 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.

Latex paint does not contain natural latex protein but rather synthetic latex. It is the natural latex protein that contains the relevant allergens. Since there is no natural latex protein found in latex paint, people with latex allergy are at no increased risk of an allergic reaction due to exposure to latex paint. For this reason, many companies have proposed changing the name from latex paint to acrylic paint.

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. 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.

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