Preventing Latex Allergies Before They Attack

September 30, 1997

Scientists at Columbia University have developed a new topical hand cream that may prevent the two most common latex allergy reactions-- sensitization to latex after prolonged exposure and contact dermatitis. Over 100,000 people in the United States are at risk for latex allergies, which causes itching and redness and in severe cases can lead to respiratory distress or even death.

Study author, Shanta Modak, Ph.D., associate research scientist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and lead researcher in the discovery of the cream, will presented the findings today at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy meeting.

Researchers investigated topical creams containing a new gel composition for their efficacy in preventing irritant dermatitis when used before wearing latex gloves. Scientists discovered that when the zinc gel composition was formulated in a special base a gel matrix or a protective coating structure is formed on the skin's surface. The "matrix" appears to react with and bind soluble latex proteins and other irritants that are known to produce allergies and may actually prevent the allergic response altogether.

Prevention of the initial onset of irritant dermatitis is critical, because these symptoms are prelude to more severe allergic reactions. And in the most severe cases, people left untreated with this condition--like those allergic to bee stings--risk respiratory distress or even death.

"This cream can prevent latex glove allergies for up to four hours when applied before putting on the gloves," says Modak. "Use of the cream may reduce health care workers' risk of becoming sensitized to latex after continued exposure and may help the tens of thousands of health care workers who suffer daily with chronic irritant dermatitis," she says.

The cream was developed for health care workers who are or who may become allergic to natural latex rubber in gloves and other common irritants. It is estimated that between eight and 17 percent of all health care workers risk developing latex allergies, both from wearing the powdered latex gloves and/or from inhaling cornstarch particles, coated with latex allergen, that drift from the gloves into the air.

Preliminary clinical evaluation indicates the cream is safe for use by the general public and for those who are not allergic to latex. Columbia University licensed the anti-irritant cream called Allergy GuardR to Virasept Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The study was funded by The Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center surgery department and Virasept Pharmaceuticals.

Columbia University Medical Center

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