Allergy to Natural Rubber (Latex)
What is latex allergy?
Latex is natural rubber. It's a product made mostly from the rubber tree. Some people have allergic reactions after repeated contact with latex, especially latex gloves. Allergy to latex is an increasing health problem.
Latex allergy usually affects people who are routinely exposed to rubber products. This includes health care workers and rubber industry workers. It may also include people who've had multiple surgeries or procedures in which latex equipment and supplies were used.
What products may cause latex allergy?
Medical products that may contain latex include:
- Drains, tourniquets, urinary catheters, and wraps.
- Adhesives used for dressings and tapes.
Personal or household products that may contain latex include:
- Contraceptives, such as condoms and diaphragms.
- Diapers and sanitary pads.
- Pacifiers and baby bottle nipples.
- Balloons and rubber toys.
- Rubber bands.
- Computer mouse pads.
What are the symptoms?
Allergic reactions to latex can vary from minor to life-threatening. Or they may progress from a less serious reaction to a more serious one. Symptoms may include:
- Skin reactions such as contact dermatitis, hives, or widespread itching.
- Respiratory reactions.
- With a mild reaction, a person may sneeze, cough, or have a runny nose.
- With a severe reaction, a person may have shortness of breath from swelling of the throat (angioedema). Or the person may have severe wheezing (allergic asthma).
- Life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).
How is it diagnosed?
Latex allergy is diagnosed with a physical exam and other tests. You will be asked about your symptoms and any recent exposure to latex. The doctor may also ask a lot of questions about your past health. Tests may include:
- A blood test. This can detect latex antibodies.
- Glove-use tests and skin tests. These can detect an adverse reaction to latex exposure.
Glove-use tests and skin tests should always be done by doctors who are experienced and equipped to respond to a serious reaction.
How is latex allergy treated?
It's hard to completely avoid latex, but that's the treatment that works best. Some medicines may help reduce the allergy symptoms. Serious reactions may need to be treated in a hospital emergency department.
If you've had a previous serious reaction to latex, you should carry a shot of epinephrine. Be sure you know how to give yourself the shot.
What puts you at risk?
People who have allergies to certain foods are more likely to have latex allergy. These foods include bananas, chestnuts, kiwifruit, avocados, and tomatoes. People with latex allergies may get allergies to these foods because the protein in the foods is similar to the protein in rubber.
Latex allergies are also more common in people who have a history of atopic dermatitis. This is a skin condition that causes intense itching and a red, raised rash.
Current as of: February 27, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine