The popularity of natural latex mattresses is on the rise. It has been considered a premium material with an ideal combination of responsiveness, support, and contouring while avoiding the hazards that come with different types of memory foams.
Before you go out and buy a brand new mattress, you should first determine if you have an allergy, and there are a few things that would be wise to consider. One of the most important things being in regards to allergies, and there may still be an option that can work for you given some precautions.
In this guide, we hope to help you navigate through your purchase of a latex mattresses and allergies, including how common these allergies are, who suffers from them, and what you can do if you are a part of this group.
What is Latex?
Latex most commonly comes from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, also known as the rubber tree. It’s the milky fluid, or sap, that seeps out of the plant when it’s cut, but it thickens once exposed to air. For mattresses, it can be considered a more natural option than memory foam.
The natural form that comes from the rubber tree looks nothing like the finished product you’ll find in your bed. It goes through a process called vulcanization, which exposes it to heat making it durable while getting rid of the stickiness.
There are two ways to vulcanize latex. Closed cell vulcanization leaves the proteins intact, and these are what cause the allergies. Open cell processes allow these proteins to be washed away during processing.
Types of Latex Allergies
There are many different allergies, but it is common to see both minor skin reactions and full-body responses that results in anaphylactic shock. People can even have reactions to rubber particles in the air.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
This term just means that you could get a rash on your skin from being exposed. The rash can blister and ooze within minutes or several hours after exposure.
If latex particles are inhaled, this could lead to similar symptoms throughout your respiratory system. With this condition, you could expect to wait 14 to 28 days for it to heal.
This condition can be deadly and most closely resembles what you envision when someone who’s allergic to peanuts is exposed. When someone with a severe allergy comes in contact, the body gets flooded with immune responses that flood the body with chemicals.
As an observer, you typically witness that someone is panicked and can’t breathe. This is because the immune response chemicals cause a sudden decrease in blood pressure along with a substantial narrowing of the airways.
What’s the Cause?
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), there are more than 60 plant-based allergens present in latex. The most prevalent cause of the allergy is repeated exposure.
Some people have an innate allergy to this material, while others develop it over time. In either case, it’s due to your immune system identifying it as a foreign or harmful substance that must be eradicated. The triggering of the immune response is what you see in symptoms like rashes.
There are two ways to trigger an immune response to this material: direct contact like touching, and inhalation. Inhalation occurs when particles from the material become airborne. When healthcare workers take on and off their gloves, for example, it releases microscopic particles in the air that can cause the allergy.
Signs and Symptoms
In addition to rashes, other signs and symptoms of this allergy include:
- Hives or swelling
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Weak, rapid pulse
To determine if you have this allergy, your doctor can perform a skin test to see if your skin reacts to the protein. If you’re allergic, you should develop a raised bump.
Because of the risk of a severe reaction, make sure a trained allergist performs this test. If you’re concerned about the risk of a skin test, you can also get a blood test to check for sensitivity.
Treatment and Home Remedies
While there’s no known cure for this type of allergy, if you’re having a reaction your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine or steroid to alleviate symptoms. Soothing lotions like calamine or hydrocortisone cream can make you comfortable while your body heals.
In extreme cases, you may need to carry an adrenaline injector for emergencies, also called an epinephrine auto-injector, or EpiPen for short.
In addition to avoiding materials that trigger a reaction, you may also want to avoid the following foods:
- Raw potatoes and tomatoes
There is a correlation between people allergic to latex and this list of foods, likely due to this reasoning.
The best way to prevent the reaction is to avoid risky materials.
Since rubber gloves are major culprits, you can seek out healthcare facilities that choose to practice using gloves made of an alternate substance. If you do have an allergy, make sure you inform your caregivers before they do any exams or procedures. You can also wear a medical alert bracelet if your allergy is serious.
For a list of other items to avoid, scroll down to the section titled, “What other products contain latex?”
If you encounter obstacles at work, talk to your employer about limiting your exposure or ask your company to use alternative products.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Latex Mattresses Safe?
In most cases, yes. But if you have an allergy it could be better to be safe than sorry and steer clear of a natural option.
The good news, is there are other options. If you are seeking the feel of latex, here are many other synthetic options that do not contain the latex particles that most people have allergies to. This option could be a safer bet for people with an allergy.
Again, if you think you may be at risk, consult your doctor before buying.
What’s a “Hypoallergenic Mattress”?
A hypoallergenic mattress is one that is resistant to mold growth, mildew, and dust mites. All of these things can cause allergies. The botanical type is hypoallergenic, so the risk of having a skin allergy to this material is usually overshadowed by the benefits of a bed that is hypoallergenic.
Read more: Our top bed picks for people with allergies
What is the statistics of this type of allergy in the US?
About 1% to 6% of the US population suffers from this type of allergy.
Among healthcare workers, that number is estimated to be a staggering 6 to 12%. The reason is that they were latex gloves as part of their job. Because these workers are constantly around latex gloves, through both the particles in the air as well as a near constant direct contact with the rubber, they are at a higher risk of developing an allergy.
Who’s at Risk?
As mentioned in the previous section, healthcare workers are at a higher risk for this allergy. Other populations at risk include children with spina bifida. It is speculated that many of these children may develop this allergy because of frequent surgeries. In fact, anyone who’s had 10 or more surgeries is at a higher risk.
Another segment of the at-risk population is people who are exposed repeatedly to natural rubber latex, usually workers in the rubber industry.
And finally, if you have other allergies like food allergies and hay fever, your chances of being allergic to other things like latex could also increase.
What other products contain latex?
The most common types of products that have this material in them are:
- Condoms, diaphragms, and dental dams
- Gloves for dishwashing and medical use
- Baby bottle nipples
- Rubber toys
- Some disposable diapers
- Swim goggles and racket handles
- Hot water bottles
- Rubber bands and erasers
- Handgrips on bicycles and motorcycles
- Stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs
- Intravenous tubing and syringes
- Surgical masks
- Electrode pads
Does memory foam contain latex?
Memory foam is an entirely different material than latex foam. Also referred to as viscoelastic polyurethane or tempurdic foam, memory foam is synthetic and derived from petrochemicals. It’s known for providing a lot of contouring, as the sleeper’s body should sink into the mattress. If you’re wondering if your Tempurpedic mattress has latex in it, the answer is no.
Again, these are two entirely different materials. Latex foam doesn’t sink quite like memory foam does, and sometimes it’s more durable.
If you’ve never experienced a latex mattress, you could be in in for a treat. But allergies are nothing to mess with. No matter how important your sleep health may be, your well being and life are more important.
Consult with a doctor if you think you may have a latex allergy. If you find out you do, the good news is that there are plenty of wonderful mattress options out there to help you get a great night’s sleep.