Allergy to Natural Rubber (Latex)

Condition Basics

What is latex allergy?

A latex allergy is an allergic reaction that happens after repeated contact with latex, such as latex gloves. It affects people who are often exposed to rubber products.

What products may cause latex allergy?

Medical products that may contain latex include:

  • Gloves.
  • 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 mild to life-threatening. Or they may progress from a mild reaction to a more severe 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?

A 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.
  • Skin tests. These can detect an allergic reaction to latex exposure.

Skin tests should always be done by doctors who are experienced and equipped to respond to a severe reaction.

How is latex allergy treated?

Avoiding latex is the best treatment. Severe reactions may need to be treated in a hospital. If you've had a severe reaction to latex before, carry an epinephrine shot. Be sure you know how to give yourself the shot. Take a nondrowsy antihistamine, such as loratadine (Claritin), to help treat mild symptoms.

What puts you at risk?

People who have allergies to certain foods are more likely to have a 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 rash. In lighter skin, the rash may look pink or red. In darker skin, the rash may be hard to see or it may look dark brown, gray, or purple. Or there may be patches of lighter skin.

Credits

Current as of: February 26, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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