If you observe allergic reactions upon contact with products that contain latex, you are one of a growing portion of around 10% of the population. The sensitivity can range from annoying (skin rashes, itching, swelling, lesions mostly on the finger tips) to dangerous (anaphylactic shock and acute severe asthma attacks), and it tends to worsen with continued exposure to the offending products. That’s why health care workers are more likely to develop problems - latex is an effective barrier against contagious transmission and is widely used in health care facilities.
Allergic reactions are triggered not only by touching a latex material, but just as easily by inhaling particles from those materials. Rubber gloves are often powdered with corn starch to make them less sticky, and easier to put on and take off; but this powder picks up the proteins in latex, and when inhaled triggers the allergic reaction in the lungs.
With a proper latex allergy, the immune system reacts to the protein contained in the sap of the rubber tree as if it was a dangerous substance. Anti-bodies are produced, and they are responsible for ‘sounding alarm bells’ next time this protein is detected. The defense mechanism triggered by this alarm consists of the release of histamine and other chemicals in the blood stream.
How does histamine fight foreign proteins? Like using a baseball bat to chase a burglar out of a China shop, it is the big gun responsible for collateral damage in the process of achieving its mission. It makes capillary walls swell up, in order to let white blood cells and proteins (produced ‘on order’ in near-by stem cells) enter the area where the offending protein was detected. Calling white blood cells and proteins to the scene in itself is a good thing, as they are the ‘police to stop the crime’. They do that by neutralizing the foreign protein and eventually throw it in the sewers that the lymph and blood drainage systems are.
However, this swelling if the membranes is what constricts airflow if it’s in the lungs, and what causes itching elsewhere. That’s the collateral damage part of the process - and it’s what leads people to grab their anti-histamine puffers. Those puffers are so widely used, that I’m sure it is a very common sight at airport controls where agents check out the contents of pockets and purses. If you have some money saved up, you should consider investing in companies producing such anti-histamine puffers. It sure looks like a growth industry to me. Only, of course, the body gets used to constant anti-histamines in the body, and they loose their effectiveness, just like with anti-biotics.
Now to the good news and the bad news. The bad first - nobody has a clue why the immune system treats latex proteins with such hatred, and there is no cure. The good news - as long as you avoid contact of latex with any membrane of the body, you’ll have absolutely no problem. Sounds easy, right - at least as long as you don’t work in the medical field? Well, latex is in many commonly used products, such as shoe soles, elastic waist bands in underwear and swim wear, yoga mats, bike handles, condoms, balloons, rubber erasers, rubber bands, hair scrunchies, … you get the idea that to completely escape contact with the thing, you’ll need to set up shop all by yourself in a cave up high in the Himalayas, or retire as ship wrecked to an undiscovered island. In both scenarios, visitors are not welcome, as they more likely than not carry latex products with them. Email preferred over visits; unlike Robinson Crusoe, you would not light a signal fire to alert passing ships to your presence - you’d prefer the company of the cannibals from the other island over visitors from the modern world!
There’s more good news, so cheer up already. If you can’t rent a cave in the mountains, and haven’t found your dream undiscovered tropical island yet, the next best course of action is staying where you are, and throwing out all products containing latex. The good news is that there are clean and pure alternatives available. Rawganique PureClothes has recently added a few core products to their offering of organic, natural fiber clothing items that are elastic-free: Women’s 100% Organic Cotton Boy Shorts, soft as can be, and with an organic cotton drawstring in place of the elastic waist band; Men’s and Women’s 100% organic hemp drawstring boxers; 100% organic cotton socks (in development); and many other latex- and elastic-free wardrobe essentials for every occasion. And because menstrual pads often contain latex as moisture barrier, we also offer 100% cotton latex-free pads and liners.With such wonderful alternatives, who really needs latex clothing products any more? It matters little that often the allergy is caused not by the rubber proteins themselves, but rather by chemicals used in the production process, and the dyes used; and that the man-made (but more expensive) elastic alternative Spandex is often tolerated by latex-allergic people, but creates allergy issues of its own - choosing all natural, all organic, and all elastic-free products solves the problem, and in a perfectly beautiful way.