Latex, also known as rubber or natural latex, is derived from the
milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. This tree is found
in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Latex allergy develops after some
sensitizing contact with latex. Rubber gloves are the main source of
allergic reactions. For many people, a component of the latex
substance itself is an allergen. The residual powder on latex gloves
is also an airborne allergen that causes upper airway allergic
reactions in some people, as well as worsening asthma.
What Causes Latex Allergy?
The exact cause of latex allergy is
unknown, but it is thought that repeated exposure to latex and
rubber products may induce symptoms.
About 5 to 10% of healthcare
workers have some form of allergy to latex.
Who Is Affected By Latex
Other than healthcare workers,
people at increased risk for developing latex allergy include those
- Myelodysplasia (defects in the
bone marrow cells)
- Congenital urologic
- A history of multiple surgical
- Intermittent catheterization
- Dams for certain types of dental
- Allergy, asthma or eczema
- Food allergies to banana,
avocado, kiwi, or chestnuts
What Happens During A Latex
There are three types of latex
- Irritant contact dermatitis. The
least threatening type of latex reaction, classified as a
non-allergenic skin reaction. It results in dryness, itching,
burning, scaling, and lesions of the skin.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. A
delayed reaction to additives used in latex processing, which
results in the same type of reactions as irritant contact
dermatitis (dryness, itching, burning, scaling and lesions of
the skin), but the reaction is more severe, spreads to more
parts of the body and lasts longer.
- Immediate allergic reaction
(latex hypersensitivity). The most serious reaction to latex. It
can show up as rhinitis with hay fever-like symptoms,
conjunctivitis (pink eye), cramps, hives and severe itching.
Rarely, symptoms may progress to include rapid heartbeat,
tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure,
anaphylactic shock, temporary loss of consciousness or,
What Should I Do When A
Latex-Allergy Reaction Occurs?
Allergic reactions to latex can
range from skin redness and itching to more serious symptoms, such
as hives or gastrointestinal problems. True allergic reactions to
latex rarely progress to the life-threatening conditions such as low
blood pressure, difficulty breathing or rapid heart rate. However,
if left untreated, these conditions could potentially result in
If you experience severe symptoms,
call your doctor or 911 immediately, or go to the nearest emergency
How Is Latex Allergy Diagnosed?
A latex allergy is diagnosed in
- Have experienced signs or
symptoms of allergic reaction (skin rash, hives, eye tearing or
irritation, wheezing, itching, difficulty breathing) when
exposed to latex or natural rubber products.
- Do not have signs or symptoms of
latex allergy but are known to be at risk for latex allergy and
have a positive skin test to latex. Since the latex allergen
used in the test is not readily available in the United States,
a blood test is sometimes performed to detect allergy-producing
Skin testing for latex allergy
should only be done with the close supervision of an allergy
specialist because of the risk of severe reactions.
How Is Latex Allergy Treated?
Reactions may be treated by removal
of the latex product and drug treatment according to the type of
symptoms developing. If the symptoms are irritant contact
and/or corticosteroid medicines may be enough to treat symptoms.
Severe reactions should be treated with epinephrine, intravenous
fluids, and other support by hospital or emergency personnel.
If you have latex allergy, it is
important for you to wear a MedicAlert bracelet and carry an
emergency epinephrine syringe.
There is no cure for latex allergy,
so the best treatment for this condition is prevention.
How Can I Make My Home Safe?
If you're at risk for serious
reactions to latex, you must make many lifestyle changes to ensure a
latex-safe environment. While it may require leading a more
protected and isolated life, you can continue certain activities
when precautions are taken.
- Carry basic latex alternatives
(such as non-latex, non-powdered gloves) at all times.
- Keep all shoes, boots, and
sneakers in covered containers.
- Never travel alone. Always
travel with another person, especially to doctor appointments
where you might accidentally come into contact with latex.
- Plan in advance to ensure latex
avoidance at any family function or party.
Because a latex allergy becomes
worse with each exposure, you should avoid products containing
latex. While it is difficult to obtain full and accurate information
on the latex content of products, you may become better informed by
checking with suppliers before buying a product.
The following list highlights some
(but not all) of the latex products you should avoid in the home:
- Rubber sink stoppers and sink
- Rubber or rubber-grip utensils
- Rubber electrical cords or water
- Bath mats and floor rugs that
have rubber backing
- Toothbrushes with rubber grips
- Rubber tub toys
- Sanitary napkins (that contain
- Diapers that contain rubber
- Adult undergarments that contain
- Waterproof bed pads containing
- 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
- Keyboards and calculators with
rubber keys or switches
- Pens with comfort grip or any
- Remote controllers for TVs or
VCRs with rubber grips or keys
- Camera, telescope or binocular
- Bathing caps and elastic in
What Products Should I Avoid
Outside The Home?
- Grocery store checkout belts
- Restaurants where workers use
latex gloves for food preparation (call ahead to ensure your
- Auto races that emit tire and
- ATM machine buttons (often made
What If I Have To Go To The
If you have a known latex allergy
and must visit the doctor or dentist, inform the doctor of your
latex allergy at least 24 hours before your scheduled appointment.
The hospital or doctor's office should have a latex-free protocol
that they follow for patients with latex allergies.
If you have to stay in the
hospital, you will usually be given your own room, free of latex
Do I Have To Change My Diet?
Latex allergies may also cross over
into food groups. Or if you are already allergic to certain foods,
you may be at high risk for developing a latex allergy.
The following foods can trigger a
latex-like allergic reaction because the proteins in them mimic
latex proteins as they break down in the body:
Note: Not all people who have these
food allergies will also have latex allergies.