Latex allergy is an allergy to latex, a rubbery material used to make toys, exam gloves, surgical tubing, condoms, and other everyday items. Symptoms of latex allergy can range from from mild sneezing and congestion to severe anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Latex is made from the sap of a rubber tree and contains naturally occurring proteins that some people are allergic to. If you have a latex allergy, your body mistakes latex for a harmful substance.
Your doctor can help determine if you have a latex allergy or if you're at risk of developing one.
The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to know the common sources of latex and the allergic symptoms to watch for.
What are the most common products containing latex?
Common household items containing latex include:
- Dishwashing gloves
- Elastic waistbands
- Rubber toys
- Hot water bottles
- Baby bottle nipples
- Disposable diapers
- Sanitary pads
- Rubber bands
- Swim goggle straps
- Racket handles and bicycle handgrips
In health care settings, latex gloves are often used as a barrier to prevent the spread of disease, but with the rise of latex allergy, many medical staff now use non-latex gloves. However, latex can still be found in these medical products:
- Blood pressure cuffs
- Intravenous tubing
- Electrode pads
- Surgical masks
What are the symptoms of latex allergy?
People who are allergic to latex usually have a reaction immediately after being in contact with latex (such as by wearing latex gloves). These are the most commonly reported symptoms:
- Contact dermatitis -- this is a skin rash that sometimes appears a day or two after someone has worn latex gloves
- Stuffy nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- If asthmatic, worsening of asthma symptoms
The most dangerous allergic reaction to latex is anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. Anaphylactic reactions develop immediately after latex exposure in highly sensitive people and cause the airways (bronchi) to constrict, making it difficult to breathe. Blood pressure may drop to dangerously low levels, causing the person to feel dizzy or lose consciousness. Other serious signs and symptoms include:
- Slurred speech
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Blueness of your skin, including your lips and nail beds
- Nausea and vomiting
Seek emergency medical care if you think you're having an anaphylactic reaction.
Are some people more likely to have latex allergies?
Some people are more likely to develop a latex allergy than others. The amount of exposure to latex is a key factor in developing a latex allergy, so healthcare workers, and patients (especially children) who undergo multiple surgeries are at risk of developing an allergy to latex.
Genetic factors also play a role in who gets a latex allergy. People who have other allergic conditions, such as allergy-induced asthma, eczema, hives, or insect allergy, are at increased risk for developing an allergy to latex.
Anyone who has experienced a reaction after eating bananas, kiwis, avocado, potatos, strawberries, peaches, or chestnuts is also more likely to develop a latex allergy.
How is latex allergy diagnosed?
Diagnosis will begin with a detailed medical history. The doctor will ask lots of questions about the nature of the reaction, where and when it occurs, etc. Since allergy may be genetic, expect some questions about other family members who may be allergic.
Once the detailed medical history is taken, skin or blood tests may be performed. Skin tests are far more common and accurate than blood tests for allergies. The doctor will make a diagnosis based on the test results, and the medical history.
How is latex allergy treated?
The only "cure" for allergy is to avoid items containing latex, if possible. Health care workers may find this to be difficult, although there are alternatives to latex gloves, such as nitrile gloves.
For non-healthcare professionals, it is important to let medical staff know about all allergic conditions during a checkup or medical procedure. This is especially important in the case of surgery.
Take these steps to avoid and manage latex allergy:
- Avoid airborne latex such as that from powdered latex gloves.
- Bring your own non-latex gloves to any medical appointment just in case your caregiver doesn’t have them.
- Check product labels. Hypoallergenic does not necessarily mean that the product has no latex.
- Tell your health care provider about your latex allergy.
- Wear a med-alert bracelet or necklace describing your allergy just in case you ever need emergency care.
- Carry an injectable epinephrine pen (such an EpiPen, Twinject device) in case of an anaphylactic reaction.
If you do come into contact with latex and suffer a reaction, get immediate medical attention if you show symptoms of anaphylaxis. For less severe reactions, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines or recommend skin creams for uncomfortable allergic symptoms.
Can latex allergy be prevented?
The best way to prevent latex allergy is to avoid latex. Continued exposure increases your chances of developing the allergy. If you work in health care or other settings where latex products are commonly used, choose latex alternatives (such as nitrile gloves) and ask coworkers not to used powdered latex gloves (the latex mixes in with the powder, creating a dust that can be allergenic when inhaled).
Last updated : 6/27/2020