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When it comes to purchasing and using a natural latex mattress, there is really only one major potential concern which needs to be considered and addressed: the latex allergy. It is only recently that latex has come to be recognized as an uncommon but present source of allergy symptoms among a small percentage of the human population. As an allergen, latex can have a wide range of varied effects ranging from the mild to the severe.
If you or a member of your family suffers from an allergy to natural latex, you may despair of ever being able to use a natural latex mattress. After all, having your body snugly pressed against the source of your allergy for an average of 7-8 hours per night doesn't sound like a very healthy thing to do, does it? Luckily, however, there is hope of which you may not have been previously aware. What we refer to the "latex allergy" in fact only refers to an allergy to a very small, specific part of natural latex's makeup, and one which can easily be removed from a natural latex mattress via proper cleaning techniques.
In short, if a natural latex is correctly made and thoroughly run through a multi-step washing cycle before being shipped out or sold, it can in fact be made one hundred percent hypoallergenic - safe for use by allergy sufferers.
However, before we go into just what techniques can be used to make a natural latex mattress hypoallergenic, let's start by taking a look at just what the term "latex allergy" actually means and what sorts of different effects it can have on human allergy sufferers.
At its simplest, the definition of "latex allergy" is "a negative, often uncomfortable or painful reaction caused by coming in contact with or breathing in latex". However, did you know that what most people probably think of as the "latex allergy" should in fact correctly be classified as two separate, similar but scientifically distinct allergies? Well, if you didn't, read on to learn more!
Many people may react negatively around all sorts of latex goods and simply believe that they have an allergy to anything and everything which falls under the umbrella of "latex". However, there are in fact two different phenomena which are typically lumped together as the "latex allergy".
First is what we here at Brand Name would consider to be the "true" latex allergy - a negative reaction to a set of specific proteins found in the original liquid makeup of natural latex. What we call "natural latex" actually begins its life as a thick, white, sap-like liquid with a milky consistency. It is produced by the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), which is native to South America but also found across East and Southeast Asia, and is harvested using a process called "tapping". (Learn more here!)
"Latex allergy" does not refer to an allergy to this liquid in its entirety, but to one or many of a set of specific proteins found within the liquid natural latex. As of right now, doctors and allergists have identified 13 distinct proteins capable of provoking allergic reactions in humans. Typically, the allergic reaction occurs only when the sufferer's bare skin comes in direct contact with the protein causing the allergy.
But why do these proteins cause allergic reactions? After all, allergies are our body reacting negatively to something they interpret as "bad" or "harmful" to us. What is it about these latex proteins that makes our bodies think they're so bad?
Well, actually, as it turns out, that's just the proteins doing their natural job! In the wild, natural latex serves a primarily defensive purpose. It forms a protective layer beneath the outer bark of the rubber tree, protecting the soft, more delicate inner wood from attack by predators such as insects (including termites, dust mites and more) or bacteria, as well as negative conditions which can affect the health of the tree such as mold, rot or mildew. When a predator such as an insect tries to bite into the tasty rubber tree wood, they instead get a full mouthful of nasty-tasting liquid latex. The proteins contained in the latex - the same ones that cause humans to become allergic - make the predators feel sick and discourage them from continuing to devour the rubber tree. Human latex allergy sufferers are having the same reaction that insects do in the wild - the latex proteins are telling them to "stay away"!
The other type of "latex allergy" should not actually be technically described as an allergy at all. That term is in fact inaccurate, with a more proper one being "chemical sensitivity". This refers to humans who are more sensitive to the potential health effects caused by the chemicals used to make synthetic and blended latex. A number of the chemicals used in these blends are extremely harsh - in fact, many of the most common ones, such as styrene and butadiene, are petrochemicals, meaning that they are derived from petroleum.
Prolonged exposure can cause negative health effects even in humans who are completely allergy free. However, those who are already naturally sensitive to these chemicals will typically experience more severe and dramatic reactions. For example, a person who does not possess a sensitivity to the chemicals found in synthetic latex might get a slight headache or feel a bit light-headed, while one who does possess a chemical sensitivity will develop a red, itchy rash on their skin, have difficulty breathing and feel dizzy and nauseous throughout the day. It is important to note that, unlike the true latex allergy which is usually caused only by skin contact, a sensitivity to the chemicals in synthetic latex can also be triggered by breathing them in in gaseous form, where they are able to affect your lungs, liver, kidney, esophagus, central nervous system, and other internal organs.
Both of these reactions can be equally effective in causing negative health reactions, and both are important to keep in mind when you are shopping for a latex mattress. However, if you have experienced symptoms which you think might be an allergic reaction after coming into contact with latex, our staff here at Brand Name recommends that you see a doctor or allergy specialist to determine exactly which type of "latex allergy" you are suffering from. Doctors will be able to carry out a test which can even isolate the specific proteins or chemicals causing you to react, which can be extremely helpful in allowing you to avoid them in future purchases of mattresses or other bedroom accessories.
Now that we've established the difference between the two types of latex allergy, the question becomes - how do you end up with such an allergy in the first place? As it turns out, this question has multiple valid answers.
Like almost every known allergy, the latex allergy can affect some people from the moment of their birth. Many children will simply be born with an allergy to latex. Luckily, in recent years, doctors have begun testing recently born infants for a large number of common allergens - including latex - so individuals born with a latex allergy will likely be informed of this extremely early in their life. In some instances, this allergy may fade as the child grows older, while in others it will remain at the same general level of severity throughout the child's life. Luckily, there are very few to no instances of allergies becoming worse as a child grows, so this situation is very unlikely to occur with a latex allergy as well.
It is possible that your reason for being born with a latex allergy may be a genetic one. If your parents, grandparents or other close family relatives are allergic to latex, it is more likely that you will be as well. However, it is also possible for children to be born with a latex allergy even though this allergy has never appeared in their family before.
Additionally, allergy specialists now believe that infants who are exposed to high concentrations of latex - either while in their mother's womb or immediately following birth - are more likely to possess or develop an allergy to the substance. Many medical tools and accessories - including gloves, tubes, face masks, and even some type of IV fluid - are made entirely from or contain latex. This means that babies can become exposed to latex before or just after they are born if the mother experiences medical complications such as a difficult birthing process or if the baby itself is born requiring surgeries. While scientists may not know for sure exactly what the connection is between this increased exposure and the subsequent increased chance of being born with a latex allergy, what is known with one hundred percent certainty is that this connection exists.
However, it is also possible for individuals who were not born allergic to latex to develop it later in life. Many people find themselves picking up more allergies as they age due to their immune systems becoming weaker and less able to fight off substances which their body deems as toxic or harmful. As mentioned above in the case of infants, individuals who are regularly exposed to latex during their daily life are more likely to develop latex allergies than those who are not.
Groups of people who have been identified as possessing a higher risk of developing a latex allergy include: medical professionals (for the reasons mentioned above), janitors or other cleaners, hairdressers and caretakers of the elderly (because they are usually required to wear latex gloves for work), sex workers and adult film performers (because of the latex found in condoms) tennis and badminton players (because the handles of their racquets are usually sculpted from latex) and finally clowns, magicians and other balloon artists (because most balloons are made from latex. If you are a member of one of the groups listed here and have never been tested for a latex allergy, we recommend speaking to your doctor or allergy specialist as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, another quirk of the human body is that a person who already suffers from one allergy is more likely to develop multiple additional ones as you age. For example, if you are born with a common food allergy such as peanuts or shellfish, it is highly likely that you will begin to suffer from asthma or hayfever as you age. We recommend undergoing an adult allergy test for reactions to latex if you possess any other allergies, especially if you have suffered from allergies since birth or early childhood.
In addition, scientists have begun to identify groups of allergies which are more likely to occur together in a single individual. This can mean that you are born with all the allergies in that group or that you will start out with one and the others will gradually appear as you get older. Groups of allergies likely to occur in a single individual are referred to as cross-reactive allergies.
Some cross-reactive allergies make a great deal of sense. If you are born with an allergy to peanuts, you might initially start out able to tolerate walnuts but develop an allergy to them as you get older. Or, if doctors performing an allergy panel test during your early childhood find out that you react negatively to tuna, they will probably also test you for allergies to shrimp and crab. However, scientists have also begun to identify connections between seemingly unrelated allergens - most notably dust mites and shellfish. Why these particularly allergies tend to co-exist is a mystery which even allergy specialists have not yet been able to solve, although research into the topic continues to this day.
Because latex is found in the natural world and is a substance harvested from trees, naturally, its most common cross-reactions occur with other things which come from trees. It is quite possible that these items include the same or similar proteins to the one which causes the latex allergy in humans, although scientists have not currently proved this in any definitive manner.
The most common allergens likely to cross-react with latex include bananas, avocados, chestnuts and kiwis. If you are allergic to one of these substances, we highly recommend getting tested for the possible presence of a latex allergy. Similarly, if you are allergic to natural latex, you should likely undergo testing for reactions to the four substances listed above.
However, keep in mind that, just because the cross-reactions listed above are the most common, does not mean that they are the only allergies which can coexist with a sensitivity to natural latex. In general, we recommend that you undergo testing for a latex allergy if you react negatively to any fruit - including but not limited to apples, grapes, peaches, melons of any kind, and tropical fruits such as nectarines, mangoes or papaya. Allergies to vegetables such as potatoes, celery, spinach and squash are much less likely to cross-react with natural latex, but may potentially still do so. Lastly, scientists currently believe that a "random" connection - i.e. one for which a reason has not yet been determined - could potentially exist between the latex allergy and allergies to the common spices cinnamon and mint. However, there is not currently enough existing data on the subject to make a definitive statement one way or the other.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from either variation of the latex allergy, your best course of action is to get yourself tested to confirm your suspicions. Today, most babies are exposed to a test called an "allergy panel" shortly after they are born. This test determines whether or not they react to a number of the most common allergens such as tree nuts, shellfish, dust, pollen, dog/cat dander and, of course, both natural and synthetic latex. Although the specific contents of an allergy panel will vary from country to country and region to region according to the particular area's most prevalent allergen, latex is almost universally tested for.
However, even if you were tested as an infant, it may benefit you to undergo additional allergy testing later in life, especially if you are a member of one of the at-risk groups mentioned in the previous section. The average person is most likely to begin developing additional allergies in their late 30s and 40s, as that is when the immune system first begins to significantly weaken.
While you can choose to visit an allergy specialist - usually called an allergist - if you wish, most general practitioner doctors are capable of carrying out in-office allergy tests as well. If you wish to be tested for a latex allergy specifically, inform your doctor about when you believe you came in contact with latex and what symptoms you may be experiencing. (We will discuss the most common symptoms of the latex allergy in the following sections).
Doctors can perform an adult allergy test in one of two ways. A skin test involves exposing a small section of skin - usually on your arm or leg - to latex and then observing the reaction over a period of a few hours to a few days depending on the severity of the allergy. This test is the more commonly applied one and is capable of catching any external symptoms such as rashes or itching; however, it may result in an incorrect diagnosis if the symptoms you experience are internal (such as shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea). In that case, the doctor will then perform a blood test, in which a sample of your blood is drawn and sent off to an external laboratory for testing. Blood tests are extremely accurate and can definitively determine not only whether or not you have a latex allergy, but also how severe it is and what sort of symptoms you might expect to experience.
Some allergies have fairly consistent symptoms. For example, if you are allergic to dust, it is very likely that you will begin coughing or sneezing after spending any amount of time in a dusty room. If cats or dogs provoke a reaction in you, it is likely to include the feeling of a stuffy nose or itchy, watery eyes. However, some allergies can induce a wider, more varied range of symptoms in their victims. An example of this would be the extremely common tree nut allergy, which in some sufferers causes an itchy mouth and swollen tongue while others will experience much more severe, potentially fatal symptoms such as a swollen throat and inability to breathe properly.
The latex allergy falls into the second camp. Depending on the severity of your allergy, you can experience one or several of a large number of symptoms which have been identified by doctors and specialists. However, it is possible to divide the symptoms of the latex allergy into two groups in order to make classifying your reaction much more simple: dermatitis and anaphylaxis.
Dermatitis is the less severe version of the latex allergy. Its symptoms are irritating but not particularly dangerous, are usually short lived, and often manifest externally (on the skin) rather than internally (inside the body). In fact, the name "dermatitis" comes from the Latin word for "skin"! Doctors may also refer to this condition more specifically as "contact dermatitis" or "irritant dermatitis" - but don't worry, those two terms both mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably!
If you suffer from dermatitis, your symptoms will usually be triggered if any part of your skin comes into contact with latex. For that reason, dermatitis reactions are most frequently observed on the hands and arms, although reactions on other parts of the body are not unheard of. Symptoms may appear immediately, but in some cases, especially if the contact was brief or mild, they may take between 24 and 48 hours to manifest.
Symptoms of latex contact dermatitis typically include:
Some symptoms of dermatitis will resolve themselves on their own, usually within 36 to 72 hours (approximately 2-3 days) after initially showing up. However, if your dermatitis symptoms are persisting beyond that point, we recommend seeking medical treatment. Doctors can prescribe a variety of topical lotions and creams as well as orally ingested allergy pills which can aid in clearing up your symptoms more quickly.
Although symptoms of dermatitis usually manifest on the skin, it is also possible in some situations to have an internal dermatitis reaction instead. This sort of reaction will occur if you breathe in a large quantity of airborne latex particles. For example, if you are in a hospital or other medical facility where latex gloves are worn, you might experience this sort of reaction because the "snapping" of gloves before they are put on spreads latex dust into the surrounding air.
Symptoms of inhaling latex usually manifest more quickly, often immediately, and are usually similar to symptoms experienced by sufferers of asthma. For this reason, it may be recommended that individuals with a latex allergy carry an inhaler if they know they are going to be entering an area which contains a high amount of airborne latex particles.
The most common symptoms of a dermatitis reaction triggered by inhaling latex include:
Even more so than skin reactions, reactions from inhaling latex tend to fade quickly, often as soon as the area containing the airborne latex is left. However, as with the more common skin-related symptoms, these reactions can be medically treated with a variety of orally ingested medications if the symptoms persist beyond 48 hours after the latex was inhaled.
Anaphylaxis refers to the more severe set of reactions associated with the latex allergy. Unlike dermatitis, an anaphylactic reaction is usually immediate, does not clear up on its own, and represents a significant danger to the health of the allergy sufferer. Anaphylactic reactions should be treated immediately. If left untouched, they can lead to conditions such as "anaphylactic shock," in which the body begins to shut down. Ultimately, an anaphylaxis reaction can even potentially be fatal.
Most sufferers of anaphylactic allergies carry an emergency supply of epinephrine (most commonly referred to as an "EpiPen") with them at all times. Quick administration of epinephrine as soon as the reaction begins can keep the sufferer safe and stable until they can receive proper medical treatment. However, keep in mind that an EpiPen is typically only a temporary stabilizer. Individuals suffering from severe anaphylactic reactions to latex should be treated by a licensed medical professional as soon as possible.
Unlike the symptoms associated with contact dermatitis, anaphylactic reactions are not necessarily triggered simply by your skin coming into contact with latex. Rather, anaphylaxis requires contact between latex and the body's sensitive mucus membranes - soft, moist areas where the boundary between the interior and exterior of the body is thinner and more easily affected. The human body possesses a number of mucus membranes which can trigger allergic reactions if they contact latex: the eyes, the inside of the nose, mouth and throat, the anus, and both the male and female genitalia. Because the mouth and throat are counted among the mucus membranes, inhaling latex particles will almost certainly trigger a reaction.
Like dermatitis, the symptoms of anaphylaxis can vary in both nature and severity from individual to individual. However, the symptoms tend to manifest internally (within the body) rather than externally (on the skin). Many symptoms of anaphylaxis are also extremely similar to those of the disease influenza (nowadays more commonly referred to as "the flu"). If you are experiencing a flu-like reaction, it is important to consider whether you might have recently come into contact with latex and in fact be suffering from anaphylaxis.
Common symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction to latex include:
As mentioned earlier, leaving an anaphylactic reaction untreated for too long can cause rapid loss of consciousness as the body's functions, such as breathing, to begin to shut down. This condition is referred to as "anaphylactic shock". It is EXTREMELY dangerous and can quickly become fatal if left untreated. If you encounter a person entering anaphylactic shock, it is highly recommended that you do not attempt to treat them yourself and call your local emergency number as quickly as possible so that they can receive treatment at a medical facility.
...can seem pretty overwhelming, can't it? After all, latex is found in increasingly more areas of our day to day lives. It's not just in mattresses - everything from raincoats to children's toys to medical equipment to the soles of most common sneaker brands are made from none other than sturdy, elastic, high-quality latex. And while that's great news for those of us interested in affordable, quality products which will safely last us for years to come, for latex allergy sufferers, it may make living a normal life full of these products seem more difficult than ever.
That's why us folks here at Brand Name are dedicated to ensuring that every single one of the mattresses and other bedroom accessories which we sell to our customers are not only strong, sturdy, supportive, soft, comfortable, long-lasting, organic and non-toxic - but also hypoallergenic.
And what exactly does that mean? you might ask.
Well, the next and final section of this informative guide is going to explain just that!
Initially, the term "hypoallergenic" only referred to "products which do not contain any amount of a specific allergen". However, in recent years, that definition has expanded to include the following qualification:
"Products which would initially contain an allergen, but have been manufactured in such a way so as to no longer do so"
In simpler terms, a natural latex product - such as, for example, a mattress - can be considered hypoallergenic if its manufacturing process is able to completely remove the proteins which trigger the allergic reaction in humans.
And luckily for you, the manufacturing processes used to make our one of a kind Brand Name mattresses do exactly that!
In another article (found here), we described in detail the two most commonly used methods of making a mattress: the Dunlop Method and the Talalay Method. While both of these manufacturing strategies differ in several key ways, both of them include a step - just prior to the mattresses being packaged up, shipped off and sold to happy customers such as yourselves all around the world - known as "washing" or "cleaning".
During the manufacturing process, heat, pressure, and motion (in the form of high-velocity stirring, whipping or foaming) are applied as the natural latex is converted from a thick, sticky liquid to a soft, foamy solid. These external factors cause the reaction-inducing proteins - which are usually different in density from the rest of the substance - to become separated from the bulk of the liquid latex and migrate to either the very bottom or very top of the resulting substance. This means that, once the mattress has been solidified into its final form, all of the allergens are located on the very outside of the finished product.
And, of course, that means that it is possible to remove the proteins entirely via a thorough washing. For example, the Talalay Method - widely considered to be the most effective way to ensure that a mattress is truly hypoallergenic - features each finished mattress being washed no fewer than five times before it is dried, packaged and shipped. While the Dunlop Method officially calls for only a single washing cycle before packaging, in recent years, manufacturers who utilize the Dunlop technique have begun to add additional wash cycles similar to the Talalay Method in order to fully ensure that their products can be considered hypoallergenic.
Does this mean that natural latex mattresses are safe to be used even by sufferers of the latex allergy?
Yes, it does! Even those with the allergy can enjoy years and years of deep, restful sleep with the assistance of a Brand Name natural latex mattress - without having to worry about triggering an allergic reaction!
HOWEVER, we encourage all of our customers to keep in mind that, currently, no member of the Brand Name staff is a licensed medical professional. Our advice can not and should not be considered an appropriate substitute for the professional opinion of a doctor or allergy specialist. If you have been diagnosed with an allergy to natural latex - ESPECIALLY if you are potentially at risk of experiencing an anaphylactic reaction - we strongly recommend consulting your doctor or allergist before purchasing a natural latex mattress.
Of course, if you wish to purchase and use a natural latex mattress but want a little extra protection and certainty that no reaction will occur as you sleep, there are plenty of options!
Perhaps the most effective and widely used would be to purchase and use a mattress protector (head over here to learn more), which usually covers the entire mattress on all four sides and is securely closed using a zipper or other fastener. This completely prevents your skin from coming into contact with the latex of the mattress during the night.
Similarly, you might also consider purchasing and using a mattress pad (learn more here) or a mattress topper (information found here). These only sit on top of your mattress and do not cover it on all four sides like a protector does, but are usually quite thick and padded and thus create an effective barrier between the latex and your skin. As an alternate option, you could even purchase a layered mattress made of multiple different materials, which features natural latex as one of the lower layers and a separate, hypoallergenic top layer to keep your skin and mucus membranes safe.
If you are a latex allergy sufferer who intends to purchase and use a natural latex mattress, it is important that you keep it clean and dry at all times. Although it will have been thoroughly washed before being sold to you, keeping your mattress clean is the best way to prevent latex particles from entering the surrounding air and being inhaled by yourself or your family members or housemates. Your bedroom should also be kept dry, well-lit and at a neutral room temperature as often as possible to promote your health and the cleanliness of the mattress.
As always, if you have any questions about the latex allergy or our hypoallergenic latex mattresses, feel free to contact us at any time. Our catalog - stuffed to the brim with healthy, safe, high-quality, hypoallergenic natural latex mattresses and bedroom accessories - can be found right over here. Happy shopping!