Background Occupational allergens are those you might encounter in your workplace. Farmers may be sensitive to dusts associated with threshing or milling or animal feeds. Manufacturers of furniture may be sensitive to the various woods with which they work, while those who make and use detergents may be allergic to the enzymes added to these cleaning agents. Healthcare workers and patients may become allergic to latex rubber through frequent exposure to latex used in gloves, tubing, and other applications.
Incidence and Prevalence It is difficult to assess the exact incidence and prevalence of occupational allergies, as they are extremely varied in nature depending on the specific job and role. Occupational allergies span allergens from wood and wood products, animals, chemicals, particulates, and latex. Latex sensitivity and Allergy, which increase with latex exposure, have become more prevalent in the past 20 years. This is due in part to the emergence of new infectious diseases and the need to protect workers from exposure to infectious materials. It is now estimated that 8-12% of the 7.7 million health care workers in the United States are latex sensitive.
Cause and Risk Factors When allergens enter the body of a person with a sensitized immune system, they trigger antibody production (IgE) in a hypersensitive response. Part of the immune response consists of the release of histamine and other chemicals, frequently causing itching and swelling in affected tissues, mucus production, and in serious cases, hives and rashes, as well as other symptoms. Due to the nature of environmental allergens in occupational settings, most come in contact with the skin or eyes, or are inhaled, thus causing a reaction in these areas.
For those with latex Allergy, the best defense is to reduce exposure. Currently, there is no cure for latex sensitivity, so it is necessary for individuals to learn which products contain latex and find alternatives. As a result of the increase in latex sensitivity, an greater number of comparable non-latex products are now manufactured.