By Kevin J. Kelly, MD
During the holidays, allergists often receive phone calls from people with natural rubber latex allergy about allergic reactions to poinsettia plants.
The brilliant red poinsettia is one of the most common latex-producing plants in the world and it’s often used to adorn homes for the holidays. It comes from the family Euphorbiaceae, of which Hevea brasiliensis (the rubber tree) is also a member.
The latex is found within the plant’s circulation system. It’s not released until there’s a broken leaf or the plant is broken in some manner. Even in this case, a small leaf off a poinsettia plant that is immediately wiped off the skin is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
Little is published on poinsettia and latex allergy cross-reactivity. In the 1990s, research found there to be some cross reactivity with latex proteins from these plants.
In 2006, a report described a patient who developed a rash due to a poinsettia plant in a hospital room; it is unclear if the patient had direct contact with the plant. In 2007, a report described two infants with latex allergy experienced anaphylaxis after they had direct contact with leaves of a poinsettia plant.
Many are wondering if there is a risk of inhaling allergens from poinsettia plants. It appears this is highly unlikely; it is difficult to identify a mechanism in poinsettia plants where a protein allergen is propelled into the air without a carrier (such as what occurred with cornstarch-powdered latex gloves in the early 1990s).
Despite the minimal risk, I encourage latex-allergic patients to avoid or limit contact with poinsettia plants due to the remote possibility of an allergic reaction. It would be prudent for most patients to not overreact to the presence of poinsettia plants, as they are likely to be safe.
Plants related to Hevea brasiliensis
|Hevea brasiliensis||Rubber Tree|
|Euphorbia splendens||Crown of Thorns|
|Acalypha wilkesiana||Jacobs Coat|
|Ricinus communis||Castor Bean|
|Acalypha hispida||Chenile plant|
Kevin J. Kelly, MD, is a latex allergy expert and pediatrician in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.