Latex Allergy FAQs
1. What is a latex allergy?
A latex allergy is a reaction to a protein in natural latex, which comes from the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree. A wide variety of products contain natural latex, including:
Condoms and diaphragms
Diapers, bottle nipples, and pacifiers
Medical and dental supplies
Rubber bands, gloves and toys
People who have a latex allergy react upon exposure to latex in these products. Their immune systems are over-sensitive and respond abnormally to a harmless substance. Some people are so sensitive they react from breathing in latex particles.
It’s important to note that synthetic latex doesn’t cause a reaction because it doesn’t come from the Brazilian rubber tree. Products like latex paint contain synthetic latex.
2. What are the symptoms of a latex allergy?
Symptoms of latex allergy range from mild to severe, including:
Itchy, watery eyes
People who are highly allergic to latex are at risk of developing anaphylaxis—a life-threatening allergic reaction. Seek emergency medical care for anaphylactic symptoms, including:
Difficulty breathing or wheezing
Loss of consciousness
Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
Some people have skin reactions to latex gloves, with such symptoms as bumps, sores and cracks. While these are not true allergic reactions to latex, they increase the likelihood of developing a latex allergy. Other warning signs that you may be developing an allergy include itching and swelling after using latex products—for example, having itchy or swollen lips after blowing up a balloon.
3. Who is at risk of developing a latex allergy?
In the United States, latex allergy is rare. It only affects about 1% of the population. Although anyone can develop a latex allergy, healthcare workers and rubber industry workers are at highest risk. In fact, up to 17% of healthcare workers—or anyone who wears latex gloves regularly—are allergic to latex.
Other people at high risk include children who have frequent surgeries or medical procedures, children with spina bifida, and people who have food allergies.
4. How do doctors diagnose latex allergy?
To diagnose latex allergy, your doctor will evaluate your medical history and do a physical exam. This will include asking questions about your reactions and triggers. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis.
5. What should I do if I have a latex allergy?
There is no cure for latex allergy, but it is manageable by avoiding latex-containing products. Find out what products you use that contain latex. You can check labels or contact the manufacturer if necessary. Then, find latex-free alternatives.
Make sure your doctors, dentist, and other healthcare providers know about your latex allergy. They should use non-latex gloves and medical products when examining or treating you. Many hospitals and facilities normally use latex-free products, but it’s important to double-check each time.
Be prepared for a reaction by developing an emergency plan with your doctor. This may include using antihistamines or inhalers to control symptoms. For more severe allergies, you may need to learn how to use auto-inject epinephrine and carry it with you everywhere you go. Write out your plan and teach those close to you how to use the auto-injectors. It’s also wise to wear medic-alert jewelry identifying your latex allergy.
6. What foods could cause a problem if I have a latex allergy?
Some foods have proteins that are very similar to the latex protein. If you are allergic to latex, this means it’s possible to have a cross-reaction when you eat certain foods. The most common foods to trigger a cross-reaction include:
There are other foods that can trigger an allergic reaction, but avoiding them can cause nutrition problems. Talk with your doctor about which foods you should avoid. In most cases, you only need to avoid a food if you’ve already had an allergic reaction to it.