Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 18 March 2021
Table of contents
When the immune system overreacts to the proteins present in natural rubber latex, which is used to produce items like rubber gloves, condoms, and even medical devices, you have a latex allergy.
Doctors are uncertain as to what causes it. Coming into frequent contact with latex and rubber goods may be one of the reasons.
Who Is Likely to Develop a Latex Allergy?
About 5% to 10% of healthcare staff are sensitive to latex in some way.
Other risk factors for developing a latex allergy include having the following:
- Allergy, asthma, or eczema
- Food allergies to apples, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnuts, kiwi, melons, papayas, raw potatoes, avocadoes, pineapple, and tomatoes
- Had more than one operation
- A defect in their bone marrow cells
- A deformed bladder or urinary tract
- A urinary catheter, which has a rubber tip
- Spina bifida
Latex allergies are more common in rubber workers and condom users than in the general population.
How Can You Be Exposed to Latex?
You can get exposed to latex:
- Through the skin, such as when you wear latex gloves
- Through mucous membranes – eyes, mouth, vagina, and rectum
- Through inhalation – come rubber gloves contain cornstarch powder, which absorbs the latex and can become airborne when the gloves are removed
- Through the blood- this can happen when some medical devices containing rubber are used.
Types of Latex Allergies
Latex reactions can be divided into three categories:
- Irritant contact dermatitis. This is the least dangerous kind because it isn't caused by an allergic reaction to the skin. Dryness, itching, burning, swelling, and skin issues are typical side effects of prolonged exposure to chemicals in latex gloves. This usually occurs 12 to 24 hours after initial touch.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. This is a delayed response to latex manufacturing additives. Similar to irritant touch dermatitis, it causes the same kinds of reactions. However, the reaction is more intense, affects more body components, and lasts longer. Symptoms will occur one to four days after coming into contact with latex.
- Immediate allergic reaction (latex hypersensitivity). This is the most serious of the three. It may manifest as hay fever-like symptoms in the nose, conjunctivitis (pinkeye), cramps, hives, and extreme itching. Rapid pulse, tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, or anaphylaxis, an extreme allergic reaction that may be life-threatening, are also potential signs.
If your symptoms are serious, phone your doctor or 999 right away, or head to the nearest emergency department.
Latex Allergy Diagnosis
Latex allergy is diagnosed in those who have:
- People who have had signs of an allergic reaction — such as a skin rash, hives, eye-watering or discomfort, wheezing, scratching, or difficulty breathing — while subjected to latex or a natural rubber substance
- Are considered to be at risk for a latex allergy, and blood or skin testing reveals that they have, even though they haven't had any symptoms.
If you require a skin examination to see if you have latex sensitivity, you must have it performed under the guidance of an allergy specialist in case you have a bad reaction.
Latex Allergy Treatment
A latex sensitivity has no known cure. If you're allergic to latex, the only thing you should do is stay far away from it. If you experience an allergic reaction, the treatment would be based on the severity of the reaction. These could be sufficient for irritated skin:
- Corticosteroid medicines
These could be required right away if your reaction is severe:
- IV fluids
- Close monitoring by doctors
Wear a medical alert bracelet or some kind of identification if you have a latex allergy. If the doctor recommends it, you may also need to carry two adrenaline injections.
Latex Allergy Home Triggers
The more you come into contact with latex, the stronger your allergy will get. If you realize you have this disorder, keep an eye out for items that might cause a reaction. If you need to stop them, contact the doctor.
Latex is used in a variety of products. To be informed, you may need to contact the product's manufacturer.
Latex is used in the production of a number of household products, including:
- Rubber sink stoppers and sink mats
- Rubber or rubber-grip utensils
- Rubber electrical cords or water hoses
- Condoms and diaphragms
- Diapers that contain rubber
- Adult undergarments that contain rubber
- Bath mats and floor rugs that have a rubber backing
- Toothbrushes with rubber grips or handles
- Rubber tub toys
- Sanitary napkins (that contain rubber)
- Waterproof bed pads containing rubber
- Undergarments, socks, and other clothing with elastic bands that contain rubber
- Adhesives such as glue, paste, art supplies, glue pens
- Older Barbie dolls and other dolls that are made of rubber
- Rubber bands, mouse and keyboard cords, desktop and chair pads, rubber stamps
- Mouse and wrist pads containing rubber
- Keyboards and calculators with rubber keys or switches
- Pens with comfort grip or any rubber coating
- Remote controllers for TVs or recording devices with rubber grips or keys
- Camera, telescope, or binocular eyepieces
- Bathing caps and elastic in bathing suits
Outside the house, latex can be used in a variety of products, including:
- Grocery store checkout belts
- Restaurants where workers use latex gloves to prepare food
- Latex gloves at the doctor’s clinic or hospital
- Some balloons
- Car races that give off tire and rubber particles
- ATM machine buttons made of rubber
Medical equipment containing latex include:
- latex gloves
- Blood pressure pads
- EKG pads
- Some adhesive bandages
- Dental devices
How Can I Safely Visit a Doctor or Dentist?
At least 24 hours before your visit, inform them of your latex allergy. A policy should be in place at the hospital or doctor's office so that non-latex gloves will be used to handle you.
If you have to remain in the hospital, you'll normally be offered your own bed, clear of all potentially irritating items.
About 30% and 50% of individuals with latex sensitivity also experience reactions to certain products when they consume, contact, or smell them. This occurs since certain fruits and vegetables contain proteins that are similar in nature to the proteins that induce the latex reaction.
Among these foods are:
Referenced on 2.3.2021:
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: “Latex Allergy Definition,” “Latex Allergy,” “Latex Allergy: Tips to Remember," “Latex Allergy Symptoms and Diagnosis."
- Pollart, S. American Family Physician, December 2009.
- Allergy & Asthma Network: “Latex Allergy and Foods.”
- American Latex Allergy Association: “About Latex Allergy: Symptoms,” “Common Latex Products."
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Latex Allergy."
- Up to Date: “Contact dermatitis (including latex dermatitis) (Beyond the Basics)."
- New York State Department of Public Health: “Latex Allergy."
- Division of Medical Devices: “Latex-Fruit Syndrome and Class 2 Food Allergy.”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Latex Allergy."
- Cincinnati Children's: “Latex Allergy."
- New York State Department of Health: “Latex Allergy – Information for Health Professionals."