If you're allergic to latex, you're likely to react after being in contact with the latex in rubber gloves or by inhaling airborne latex particles released when someone removes latex gloves. Latex allergy symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on your sensitivity and the degree of latex allergen exposure. Your reaction can worsen with repeated latex exposure.
Mild latex allergy symptoms include:
- Skin redness
- Hives or rash
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Difficulty breathing
Anaphylactic shock symptoms
The most serious allergic reaction to latex is an anaphylactic (an-uh-fuh-LAK-tik) response, which can be deadly. Anaphylactic reactions develop immediately after latex exposure in highly sensitive people, but anaphylaxis rarely happens the first time you're exposed.
Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hives or swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Drop in blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Rapid or weak pulse
When to see a doctor
Seek emergency medical care if you think you're having an anaphylactic reaction.
If you have less severe reactions after exposure to latex, talk to your doctor. If possible, see your doctor when you're reacting, which will aid in diagnosis.
In a latex allergy, your immune system identifies latex as a harmful substance and triggers certain antibodies to fight the allergen. The next time you're exposed to latex, the antibodies signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream, producing a range of signs and symptoms. The more exposure you have to latex, the more strongly your immune system is likely to respond (sensitization).
Latex allergy can occur in these ways:
- Direct contact. The most common cause of latex allergy involves touching latex-containing products, including latex gloves, condoms and balloons.
- Inhalation. Latex products, especially gloves, shed latex particles, which you can breathe in when they become airborne. The amount of airborne latex from gloves differs greatly depending on the brand of glove used.
It's possible to have other reactions to latex that aren't allergies to the latex itself. They include:
- Allergic contact dermatitis. This reaction to the chemical additives used during manufacturing produces signs and symptoms — usually a skin rash similar to that of poison ivy, including blisters — 24 to 48 hours after contact.
- Irritant contact dermatitis. Not an allergy, this form of dermatitis most likely is an irritation caused by wearing rubber gloves or exposure to the powder inside them. Signs and symptoms include dry, itchy, irritated areas, usually on the hands.
Not all latex products are made from natural sources. Products containing man-made (synthetic) latex, such as latex paint, are unlikely to cause a reaction.
Certain people are at greater risk of developing a latex allergy:
- People with spina bifida. The risk of latex allergy is highest in people with spina bifida — a birth defect that affects the development of the spine. People with this disorder often are exposed to latex products through early and frequent health care.
- People who undergo multiple surgeries or medical procedures. Repeated exposure to latex gloves increases your risk of developing latex allergy.
- Health care workers. If you work in health care, you're at increased risk of developing an allergy.
- Rubber industry workers. Repeated exposure to latex may increase sensitivity.
- People with a personal or family history of allergies. You're at increased risk of latex allergy if you have other allergies — such as hay fever or a food allergy — or they're common in your family.
Connection between food allergy and latex allergy
Latex allergy also is related to certain foods, such as avocados, bananas, chestnuts, kiwis and passion fruits. These foods contain some of the same allergens found in latex. If you're allergic to latex, you have a greater chance of also being allergic to these foods.
Many common products contain latex, but most have suitable alternatives. Prevent an allergic reaction to latex by avoiding these products:
- Dishwashing gloves
- Some types of carpeting
- Clothing waistbands
- Rubber toys
- Hot water bottles
- Baby bottle nipples
- Some disposable diapers
- Rubber bands
- Swim goggles
- Racket handles
- Motorcycle and bicycle handgrips
- Blood pressure cuffs
- Intravenous tubing
- Electrode pads
- Surgical masks
- Dental dams
Many health care facilities use nonlatex gloves. However, because other medical products may contain latex or rubber, be sure to tell doctors, nurses, dentists and other health care workers about your allergy before any exams or procedures. Wearing a medical alert bracelet can inform others of your latex allergy.