Latex and poinsettias – a dangerous connection?

Dr Kevin Kelly, Professor of Pediatrics/Medicine and Chief of Allergy & Immunology at the Medical College of Wisconsin warns of a family connection.

At this time of year Dr Kelly's clinic receives many phone calls regarding the potential for patients who have natural rubber latex allergy to develop allergic reactions to poinsettia plants although they have never yet experienced any severe allergic reactions to poinsettia contact in patient's with latex allergy.

There are many plants worldwide which secret latex, one of the best known being the poinsettia which is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family to which Hevea brasiliensis (the rubber tree) also belongs.

There is little information available about cross reactivity although Dr Kelly's work suggests that it does exist in a laboratory setting. However, from the lack of significant reports of reactions it is reasonable to assume that they are few and that brief contact with poinsettia latex is unlikely to cause a more than a minor reaction.

The latex is only found in the circulation system of the plant and contact will only be made if the leaf or stem is broken allowing a small amount of the latex to seep out. If this should happen then it should be immediately wiped off the skin.

Nonetheless, while there appears to be no need to latex allergics to avoid poinsettias completely, it might be wise for them to avoid actually touching them.

Family relationship

Genus/Species                Common Name
Hevea brasiliensis            Rubber Tree
Euphorbia pulcherrima     Poinsettia
Euphorbia splendens       Crown of Thorns
Manikot esculenta            Tapioca
Acalypha wilkesiana        Jacobs Coat
Ricinus communis           Castor Bean
Acalypha hispida            Chenile plant

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First published in December 2009

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