Methyl methacrylate, or MMA, is a substance used in the manufacture of a variety of plastics and other products. MMA is used widely and can be found as an additive in concrete, in adhesives, artificial joints, dentures, hairspray, nail polish, paints, textiles and windows. MMA can cause contact irritation and allergic reactions in the skin, but does not appear to provoke allergic reactions in the respiratory system.
Contact irritations develop when a substance is irritating to the skin or mucous membranes. A contact irritation is not an allergic reaction, but the symptoms may be similar. A contact irritation of the skin can cause redness, as can an allergy, but contact irritation does not usually result in welts or hives -- those are symptoms of an allergy that results from histamine release. A contact irritation of the lungs can cause coughing, but wheezing is unlikely as it is caused by histamine release.
An allergic reaction involves the immune system. Although reasons are unclear, your body reacts to foreign substances because the immune system thinks your body is being attacked. Hay fever, asthma and skin allergies are typical allergic reactions. In a serious allergic reaction, you may have severe swelling, be very short of breath or even go into shock. This sort of severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis, and death can occur within a few minutes.
MMA Allergy Symptoms
MMA can cause allergic skin reactions, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Symptoms include itching, redness, cracking and scaling of the skin. A product such as hairspray that contains MMA can also cause itching, redness and tearing of the eyes. Dental technicians and dentists who work with MMA have been found to develop allergic reactions of the hands and fingers, with itching, redness and skin breakdown. Women who use acrylic nails have developed itching around the cuticle next to the nail.
MMA and Asthma
Although MMA is known to be potentially irritating to the lungs, it does not seem to cause actual allergic respiratory reactions or asthma. Of the cases studied, a report in the March 2011 “Critical Reviews in Toxicology” found that the cases were poorly described or involved mixtures of MMA with other substances known to provoke asthma or other respiratory allergic responses.
Considerations and Warnings
Once you have confirmed an allergy to MMA -- usually through skin testing -- it is important not to come into contact with the substance. If you are trying to avoid MMA, you will need to read labels carefully because it is in so many products. In addition to methyl methacrylate, look for acrylate monomer, acrylate plastic, acrylate resin or MMA on the label. Tell your dentist and doctor about your allergy and be sure the allergy is noted in your dental or medical records.