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Latex Allergy

What is latex allergy?

Latex is the milky sap of rubber trees. Latex is then blended with chemicals to give it its elastic quality. Natural rubber latex is commonly used in rubber gloves, condoms, balloons, rubber bands, erasers and toys.

If you or your child is allergic to latex, the body treats latex as an allergen, triggering an allergic reaction. Latex allergies are most common in people who frequently exposed to latex products such as rubber gloves. That is why this allergy is most common among healthcare workers and people who have undergone multiple surgeries. Half of people with latex allergy have other known allergies.

Allergic reactions to latex range from mild to very severe. Every year, there are hundreds of cases of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, due to latex allergy. The severity of allergic reactions to latex can worsen with repeated exposure to the substance.

Given the potential for a very serious allergic reaction, proper diagnosis of latex allergy is important. An allergist has specialized training and expertise to accurately diagnose your condition and provide relief for your symptoms.

What are the symptoms of latex allergy?

There are different types of reactions that can occur upon contact with latex:

Delayed contact dermatitis can appear 12 to 36 hours after exposed to a latex product. Symptoms may include:

  • Red skin
  • Scaly skin
  • Itchy skin

This type of reaction is usually caused by the added chemicals in the rubber. Symptoms may be very uncomfortable but are typically not life-threatening.

Immediate allergic reactions happen in people with past latex exposure who have become sensitized to the allergen which triggers the immune system to respond. With re-exposure to latex, symptoms include:

  • Sneezing or runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Itchy throat

In the most serious allergic reaction, symptoms occur within minutes and involve multiple systems of the body (i.e. anaphylaxis).

What is the treatment of latex allergy?

Those people who might be allergic to latex should be taken to an allergist / immunologist, who can diagnosis the allergy. Your pediatric allergist will take a thorough health history and then use tests to determine if there are any allergies. Skin tests or blood tests are the most common techniques for identifying the cause of an allergic reaction.

In the case of a latex allergy, the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to not contact the substance. A new, natural rubber latex from the desert plant guayule is now being used for many products. This product is believed to be a safer alternative for those with a latex allergy.

People with latex allergy should only use substitutes for latex gloves, such as vinyl or nitrile gloves. Natural skin condoms are available, but while they protect against pregnancy, they do not prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV.

If you or your child has mild skin reactions from latex, anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve symptoms.

In case of an emergency, people at risk of a serious, anaphylactic reaction to latex should carry autoinjectible epinephrin. Seek medial attention immediately after the onset of a serious reaction. The American Latex Allergy Association provides support to individuals who have been diagnosed with latex allergy.