Can latex exposure cause equine asthma?

Researchers have discovered that exposure to latex could be detrimental to a horse’s respiratory health, and may play a role in some cases of equine asthma.

In a study recently conducted at the Royal Agricultural University and University of Nottingham, researchers found that natural rubber latex – like other common allergens such as pollen, mold and insect proteins – may contribute to severe equine asthma (sEA) in horses. In fact, four of the five most significant allergens associated with sEA were latex proteins.

What is sEA?

Severe equine asthma, also known as heaves, recurrent airway obstruction and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, closely resembles human asthma. It is a debilitating and chronic allergic respiratory condition that affects 14% of all breeds of horses in the Northern Hemisphere. When exposed to allergens, these horses can experience inflammation and constriction of the airways, as well as excessive mucus production. There are currently limited treatment options for this condition.

The first study of its kind

Due to limitations in assessment methods, this is the first study to test the effect of latex on allergies in horses. The findings are significant, especially for horses that regularly come into contact with latex such as that found on artificial riding surfaces like arenas and racetracks. Breathable latex from car tires in urban environments was also identified as a risk factor.

Drawing on a larger study that used more comprehensive testing methods to determine precise allergens within stable dust (a common contributor to sEA), researchers tested nearly 400 extracts and proteins commonly found in the equine environment on blood samples from 138 horses from Switzerland, France, the United States and Canada. It was found that horses with latex allergens in their blood had a higher incidence of sEA.

“Research to date has generally implicated fungi and bacteria as the predominant allergens associated with sEA, so this was a little unexpected,” says Dr. Samuel White, Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, and the lead author of the paper. “We would need to learn more about how these allergens affect actual predisposed horses, but avoidance of latex allergens may still be beneficial.”

The research, funded by Morris Animal Foundation, was published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. According to Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Morris Animal Foundation Chief Scientific Officer, the findings highlight the need to better understand the potential health effects of the environments that horses are exposed to. “It’s crucial that we identify which allergens might cause them distress so we know what to avoid as well as develop appropriate treatments,” she says.