Natural Latex Mattresses: Safe for Latex Allergies?
Have you been considering a natural latex mattress but are reluctant to commit because of fears of a possible latex allergy? Arm yourself with information about the cause of latex allergies and how manufacturing processes and intended usage affect allergies before ruling this type of bed out. Latex is a part of our daily lives and many people who are afraid of this natural product are already living with it. It is present in the paint in most homes, rubbery elastic found in waistbands, balls, shoes and tires, yet most people have no reaction to these products.
What is a Latex Allergy?
The proteins found in latex can cause allergies when they come into contact with skin. People might notice a reaction from rubber gloves, band aids, or other latex-containing items. These reactions can range from itching and redness to hives or rashes and other symptoms. Outside of healthcare workers, people with spina bifida and those working in latex rubber manufacturing, the prevalence of latex allergies is quite low, at around 1% of the population.
There were 1,118 reports of latex allergies in a 4 year period, which were primarily skin rashes, according to an FDA report. Out of these, 15 resulted in death. These products had been manufactured using a dipped molding process. Products causing reactions shared the following problems:
- Most were of foreign manufacture.
- Dipped vulcanization manufacturing method.
- The items were used in a medical manner that included skin and personal contact. While skin contact usually causes nothing more than a slight rash, these were used in an invasive manner.
- They had not been adequately washed which is necessary to fully remove the proteins that are responsible for causing allergies.
How Does This Relate to a Natural Latex Mattress?
The latex in latex mattresses is whipped, heated, washed and cured before it becomes foam used within mattresses. This processing removes most of the latex protein (the substance responsible for allergies). Some manufacturers may wash/rinse their foams more than others or follow different treatments. The foams and beds are also typically covered in fabric, further reducing chance of exposure to latex proteins.
The differences and benefits between these methods as well as between medical devices include the following:
- Medical products such as catheters, gloves and bandages are dipped to create a solid product, whereas latex foam is manufactured with an open cell structure and can be thoroughly rinsed to remove proteins.
- Quality natural latex mattress makers wash/rinse their products several times to remove any proteins/residues.
- There haven’t been any cases reported in the U.S. of anaphylactic shock from latex mattresses or pillows.
- A natural latex mattress is considered hypoallergenic and resistant to bacteria, molds and especially dust mites. Dust mites are one of the major causes of allergies in the home and can accelerate asthma problems.
- In addition to manufacturing methods, consumers should be aware of the fact that even if they have a typical latex allergy, the way a natural latex mattress is used would not expose them directly to the product.
Natural Latex Mattress Construction
Truly natural latex foam is created from rubber trees and little else, and is used throughout our homes and lives with most people suffering no effects. It doesn’t release dangerous VOCs like other mattress materials, which can accelerate breathing problems including asthma and is considered hypoallergenic, making a natural latex mattress one of the healthiest options around.
Manufacturers enclose the entire mattress in a protective cotton/wool or other fabric cover. Typically sheets are placed on top of this cover as well. As shown above, most reported allergies are simple rashes or redness that occur from direct skin contact with solid latex medical devices. With the wool fire barrier, protective cover and sheets a sleeper does not incur skin to latex contact, which would eliminate any potential problems.
In our recent latex mattress comparison, we discovered all-natural latex mattresses from Astrabeds which contain 100% natural, certified organic latex, organic cotton and natural wool covers, and no adhesives. The latex material is washed five times and the beds maintain Oeko-Tek 100 certification to be free of harmful substances.
How can I know for sure?
If you have suffered allergic reactions to latex products but want to experience the resilient comfort of a latex mattress, consider contacting the manufacturer or retailer and ask for a sample of the product. Many will be able to mail a small piece of the interior foam. Discuss concerns with your allergist or physician to learn more about their recommendations for determining risk.
Bear in mind that none of the reports of latex allergies were related to products outside of the medical field and were primarily caused by foreign made products to boot. In the U.S., latex mattresses have received no reports of allergic reactions to date, and have been on the market for decades. When comparing medical latex applications to latex beds, the manufacturing process and final products are not only different, but so is the intended use. A natural latex mattress is devoid of allergenic proteins and the surfaces remain covered, meaning that nearly everyone will be safe and healthy on this type of bed.
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