Latex is a premium material with an ideal combination of responsiveness, support, and contouring, all while avoiding the hazards of different types of foams.
The material is also resistant to allergens like dust mites, mildew, and mold.
However, if you have an allergy to latex itself, this could be problematic. Before you go out and buy a brand new mattress, you should first determine if you have a latex allergy.
In this guide, we’ll help you navigate through your purchase of a latex mattresses and allergies, including how common these allergies are, who typically has 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. Latex starts as a milky fluid, or sap, that seeps out of the plant when it’s cut and thickens once exposed to air. For mattresses, it can be considered a more natural option compared to others.
The natural form that comes from the rubber tree looks nothing like the finished product you’ll find in your bed. The material goes through a process called vulcanization, which exposes it to heat. Vulcanization makes it durable and gets 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.
What Are Latex Mattresses Made From?
Latex mattresses are made from three latex variations: natural, synthetic, or blended. Natural latex is going to be the most eco-friendly option and contains rubber tree sap. Synthetic latex may contain little-to-no natural latex and is produced to mimic the characteristics and performance of natural latex. Lastly, the blended version contains both synthetic and natural latex properties.
Many latex mattresses are also hybrids, which means they contain latex foams on top and an innerspring unit below. The innerspring unts in hybrid mattresses typically feature individually wrapped coils, which can help with motion transfer and provide enhanced support.
Companies that produce latex beds, particularly natural ones, will also utilize more natural materials in the cover, such as wool or cotton.
What Can be the Cause of This Type of Allergy?
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.
How Common Is It?
According to Cleveland Clinic, latex allergies affect less than 1 percent of the general U.S. population. Most people who are allergic to latex are health care workers because they use latex gloves for many years. Irritation to latex could be through either direct contact with the gloves or inhalation of the power that lines them. The good news is that many healthcare facilities have adapted and started using latex-free gloves.
Additionally, people who’ve had multiple surgeries or those with other allergies are an increased risk. This includes children with spina bifida and those with allergies to foods or who have hay fever.
The Signs and Symptoms of a Latex Allergy
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.
Who is at Risk?
Healthcare workers are at a higher risk for this allergy. Other populations at risk include children with spina bifida. Experts speculate that many of these children may develop this allergy because of frequent surgeries and exposure to the rubber in medical equipment. 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 repeatedly exposed to natural rubber latex, such as workers in the rubber industry.
Lastly, if you have allergies to certains foods or hay fever, your chances of being allergic to latex could also increase.
Types of Latex Allergies
There are many different allergies, and 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
Allergic contact dermatitis 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.
Anaphylactic shock 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 fill 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 Do Statistics Say on this Type of Allergy in the US?
As mentioned above, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population is allergic to latex.
Among healthcare workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that number is between 8 and 12 percent. The reason healthcare workers are more vulnerable to latex allergies is because they wear latex gloves for their job, increasing the risk for irritation from latex particles in the air and direct contact.
What is the Treatment for a Latex Allergy?
There is no known cure for a latex allergy, but 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, which is also called an epinephrine auto-injector or EpiPen for short.
How to Prevent It?
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 use gloves made of an alternate substance. If you do have an allergy, make sure to inform your doctors 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.
What are the Alternatives?
If you’re allergic to latex, you can still enjoy a comfortable mattress. Mattress companies offer latex alternatives, which include synthetic latex and memory foam.
- Synthetic latex – Synthetic latex is artificial and doesn’t have the natural particles found in organic latex. The synthetic option delivers the same comfort but without allergies.
- Memory foam – Memory foam is a synthetic material that doesn’t contain any latex and is designed to hug the body for excellent pressure relief. Memory foam is unlikely to cause an allergy and because it’s more dense, can help keep away allergens like dust mites. If you’re interested in other differences be sure to check out our articles on memory foam vs. latex mattresses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Latex Mattresses Safe for Allergy Sufferers?
In most cases, yes. However, if you have a latex allergy and are concerned, we advise consulting with your doctor before purchasing a natural latex bed.
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 a latex allergy. Again, if you think you may be at risk, consult your doctor before buying.
For those with allergies other than latex, these beds are often popular because they’re hypoallergenic, which could reduce the chance of other allergic reactions.
What’s a “Hypoallergenic Mattress”?
A hypoallergenic mattress is one that is resistant to mold, mildew, and dust mites. All of these things can cause allergies. The good news for consumers is that there are many hypoallergenic beds available on the market.
What other products contain latex?
The following products contain latex:
- Condoms and Diaphragms
- Rubber Household Gloves
- Dental Wedges
- Orthodontic Rubber Bands
- Elastic in Clothing
- Rubber Balls
- Certain Pillows
- Rubber Bands
Additionally, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that people with a latex allergy may have a reaction to the following foods:
- Bell pepper
These foods may trigger a reaction, but it is less common:
- Passion fruit
Does memory foam contain latex?
Memory foam does not contain latex and is an entirely different material. Also referred to as viscoelastic polyurethane or tempurdic foam, this foam is synthetic and derived from petrochemicals. Memory foam is known for providing a lot of contouring, as the sleeper’s body should sink into the mattress, making this a great alternative if you need it.
Get More Info: Memory Foam vs. Latex
If you’ve never experienced a latex mattress, you could be in in for a treat. However, allergies shouldn’t be taken lightly either. Your best bet is to be safe as you try to achieve better rest.
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. Memory foam provides nice contouring like latex, while hybrids and innersprings have the buoyancy that latex offers. With an abundance of choices, you are sure to find your perfect bed.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.