Many dental professionals come into contact with latex products every day (i.e., examination gloves, dental dams, tubing, local anesthetic cartridges, etc.). Residual proteins from natural rubber latex (NRL) can sensitize dental professionals who wear NRL gloves, resulting in Type I NRL protein allergy, which can be a serious reaction involving the skin (itching, swelling, contact urticaria), the respiratory system (sneezing) and the eyes (conjunctivitis).3 This repeated exposure can increase the risk of developing a latex allergy. Oil-based hand lotions can cause gloves to deteriorate and solubilize latex proteins, increasing the risk of allergic skin response, such as itching, redness or rash.1
Up until 2017, powdered latex gloves were used in healthcare settings. At that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned powdered latex gloves because the natural rubber latex protein combined with the powder and could became airborne when the gloves were removed. The airborne mix could then be inhaled, triggering an allergic reaction. The powder used in latex gloves may also be related to cutaneous reactions, such as delayed wound healing.4
Other types of reactions to latex exposure include irritant or allergic contact dermatitis; the latter condition is also known as type IV hypersensitivity, which is defined as a delayed immune response of the skin to chemical allergens. Allergic contact dermatitis may arise, though, from exposure to other non-latex contact allergens in dentistry, such as glutaraldehyde, methacrylates, and the rubber-processing chemicals found in gloves (e.g., thiurams, carbamates).5 Type IV hypersensitivity is typically diagnosed through the process of patch testing combined with an extensive patient history, physical examination, and other laboratory test results.6
In addition, people who are allergic to certain foods, including apples, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnuts, kiwi, melons, papaya, raw potato and/or tomatoes are at an increased risk of latex allergy.6 Conversely, people with latex allergy may also be allergic to these foods.6 People who are sensitive to other allergens, like mold and pollen, may be allergic to latex as well.1 Individuals who have had multiple surgeries also may be at increased risk of latex allergy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that the vial stoppers of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not made with natural rubber latex, so there is no contraindication or precaution to vaccination for persons with a latex allergy.