Are you concerned about developing an allergy to latex from sleeping on a latex mattress? Let us put your mind to rest.
Latex Allergy Timeline
The first published report of an allergic response to latex gloves was in 1933 (The New England Journal of Medicine). In the late 1980’s, the use of latex gloves increased exponentially among employees in the health care industry due to the public awareness of the HIV infection by the Centers for Disease Control (1987). In 1991, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported 16 deaths of patients who went into anaphylactic shock after receiving barium enema treatments which contained a latex-collared tip. Also, in 1991, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its Occupational Exposure to Blood Borne Pathogens Standard, which mandated the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including latex gloves, with any potential exposed to blood and other bodily fluids (29CFR.1910.1030). This caused the demand for latex gloves to soar. In 1992, various medical device manufacturers began voluntarily labeling their products for latex content. By 1996, the FDA proposed regulations to require all medical device companies to label devices for latex content. In 2001, the first of many latex glove liability lawsuits began in state and federal courts. However, during the past 30 years that the FDA has monitored complaints on allergic reactions to natural latex rubber, there has never been a single complaint generated from the natural rubber found in latex pillows or mattresses.
The proteins in latex are the source of the allergic reactions, which can include: nasal congestion, runny nose, shortness of breath, wheezing, and in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. These particular proteins also occur in many common items such as tomatoes, bananas, and milkweed. In the general public the latex allergy occurs in fewer than 1% of the population (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology).
Much higher risk in the health care field
Latex allergies can develop over time, due to prolonged inhalation of the microscopic powder that is used to line gloves (made of a blend of natural and synthetic rubber latex). This allergy occurs most frequently (5-15%) in employees in the health care field, as a result of wearing the gloves for prolonged periods of time (many hours each day).
Manufacturing of foamed and non-foamed latex
Non-foamed latex products (gloves, condoms, balloons, etc.) are manufactured by the dipped vulcanization process which is a closed-cell process. This process does not allow for the proteins to be washed out during or at the completion of production. Moreover, to facilitate their wear, latex gloves are coated with a powder, which in turn allows for the latex proteins to be carried into the air and increases the likelihood of exposure. Therefore, most of the allergy in health care employees comes from the powder used to line the gloves.
By contrast, latex mattresses are made of latex foam, which uses an entirely different process called an open-celled process. This process allows for thorough post-production washing. Most latex foam bedding is put through at least 5 washing or flushing cycles to ensure that almost all of the surface proteins are removed from the latex. All latex foam bedding products are subsequently covered with non-latex products so there is never skin contact with the latex. Furthermore, bed linens are also used to cover the mattresses, providing an additional layer between the skin and the mattress.
Three types of latex allergies
The mildest latex allergy is known as irritant contact dermatitis. This skin irritation usually develops from prolonged wearing of latex gloves or exposure to the powder which lines them, along with frequent hand perspiration or hand washing. This type of physical skin irritation does not apply to latex foam, because: 1) there is no direct skin contact with the latex foam, 2) the latex foam has been washed repeatedly to remove surface proteins, and 3) the latex mattress has been covered with a non-latex covering as well as non-latex bed linens.
The intermediate severity of latex allergies is referred to as latex contact dermatitis (type IV latex allergy). It is typically a result of the chemical substances that are added to the latex during the manufacturing process. This type of allergy is most common in people in the health care field.
The most severe, but also extremely rare, latex allergy is known as type 1 latex allergy. This type of allergy can cause anaphylactic shock (breathing difficulties and swelling) and in a small portion of the population can be life threatening (similar to bee stings and peanut allergies). People with this allergy are typically very aware of their allergy – they must go to great extremes to avoid natural latex, which is very difficult as it is so widely used in our society. For example, people with this allergy must check with restaurants as to whether the restaurant employees wear latex gloves before they can dine at this restaurant. Most people that sell latex mattresses can go a lifetime without ever encountering this type of latex allergy from a customer. This is due to the fact that the latex allergy comes from surface proteins in the latex that are missing in synthetic latex, particularly foamed latex used to manufacture latex mattresses.
Therefore, considering that in the past 30 years the FDA has not had a single latex allergy complaint from pillows or mattresses, along with the use of latex mattresses in hospitals, as well as the dramatically different manufacturing process of foamed latex as compared to non-foamed latex (gloves, condoms, balloons, etc.), the latex mattresses should offer you a much better peace of mind (and a better night’s sleep) about not developing any latex allergies from owning or sleeping upon a latex mattress.