Natural rubber latex (NRL) is a milky fluid obtained from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, which is widely grown in South East Asia, and other countries. NRL is an integral part of thousands of everyday consumer and healthcare items.
As with many other natural products, natural rubber latex contains proteins to which some individuals may develop an allergy.
Natural rubber latex (NRL) proteins have the potential to cause asthma and dermatitis. More serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, are also possible.
The proteins naturally present in NRL cause the allergies either through direct contact with the skin, or by inhalation of powder from powdered latex gloves
The introduction of Universal Precautions in the late 1980s mandated that healthcare workers protect themselves against the risk of cross-infection from blood-borne pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis B. This demand led to an unprecedented demand for latex gloves, which was met by changes in some manufacturers' practice (ie, high-protein [allergen] examination gloves coming onto the market place), and is believed to be the primary cause of the increased number of healthcare workers with NRL allergy. At the same time, there has been an unrelated and dramatic rise in incidence of atopic allergic disease in the past 30 years, which is also thought to be a major factor.
Those most at risk from NRL are:
Around 1-6 per cent of the general population is thought to be potentially sensitised to NRL, although not all sensitised individuals develop symptoms.