Some people are allergic to latex, which is found in rubber gloves and other products, such as condoms and some medical devices.
Doctors don’t know what causes it. Coming in contact with latex and rubber products over and over may be part of the reason why it happens.
Who Is Affected?
Other people who are more likely than most people to get it include those who have:
- A defect in their bone marrow cells
- A deformed bladder or urinary tract
- Had more than one operation
- A urinary catheter, which has a rubber tip
- Allergy, asthma, or eczema
- Food allergies to apples, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnuts, kiwi, melons, papayas, raw potatoes, avocadoes, pineapple, and tomatoes
You can get exposed to latex:
- Through the skin, such as when you wear latex gloves
- Through mucous membranes, such as the eyes, mouth, vagina, and rectum
- Through inhalation. Rubber gloves can contain cornstarch powder, which absorbs the latex and can become airborne when the gloves are removed.
- Through the blood. This can happen when some medical devices containing rubber are used.
There are three types of latex reactions:
1. Irritant contact dermatitis . This is the least-threatening type, and it’s not an allergic skin reaction. It usually happens due to repeated exposure to chemicals in latex gloves and leads to dryness, itching, burning, scaling, and skin problems.This generally starts 12 - 24 hours after contact.
2. Allergic contact dermatitis . This is a delayed reaction to additives used in latex processing. It results in the same type of reactions as irritant contact dermatitis. But the reaction is more severe, spreads to more parts of the body, and lasts longer. Symptoms can start anywhere from 1 to 4 days after you've come in contact with latex.
3. Immediate allergic reaction (latex hypersensitivity). This one is the most serious. It can show up as a nasal allergy with hay fever-like symptoms, conjunctivitis (pink eye), cramps, hives, and severe itching. It’s rare, but symptoms may also include rapid heartbeat, tremors, chest pain, trouble breathing, low blood pressure, or anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.
If you have severe symptoms, call your doctor or 911 immediately, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Doctors diagnose a latex allergy in people who:
- Have had symptoms of an allergic reaction -- like a skin rash, hives, eye tearing or irritation, wheezing, itching, or trouble breathing -- when exposed to latex or a natural rubber product
- Are known to be at risk for a latex allergy and blood or skin tests show that they have it, even if they haven’t had symptoms.
If you need a skin test to check on a latex allergy, an allergy specialist must supervise it, in case you have a severe reaction.
If the symptoms are irritant contact dermatitis, antihistamine or corticosteroid medicines may be enough to treat the symptoms. If your reaction is severe, you may need epinephrine, IV fluids, and other emergency medical care.
Changes to Make at Home
A allergy to latex can become worse the more you come in contact with it. So if you know you have this condition, be aware of products that may have the potential to cause a reaction. Ask your doctor if you need to avoid them.
Many items have latex in them. You may need to ask product makers to be sure.
Home goods that are made with latex include:
- Rubber sink stoppers and sink mats
- Rubber or rubber-grip utensils
- Rubber electrical cords or water hoses
- Bath mats and floor rugs that have rubber backing
- Toothbrushes with rubber grips or handles
- Rubber tub toys
- Sanitary napkins (that contain rubber)
- Condoms and diaphragms
- Diapers that contain rubber
- Adult undergarments that contain rubber
- Waterproof bed pads containing rubber
- 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 rubber
- Keyboards and calculators with rubber keys or switches
- Pens with comfort grip or any rubber coating
- Remote controllers for TVs or recording devices with rubber grips or keys
- Camera, telescope, or binocular eye pieces
- Bathing caps and elastic in bathing suits
Outside the home, latex is also in many items, such as:
- Grocery store checkout belts
- Restaurants where workers use latex gloves to prepare food
- Some balloons
- Car races that give off tire and rubber particles
- ATM machine buttons made of rubber
Medical products containing latex include:
There are many better-bets you can choose instead of latex. These include:
Plastic or cloth toys
Sheep cecum condoms (for birth control only)
Paper clips, string, or twine
Synthetic or cotton gloves
Nylon or synthetic waterproof coats
Shoes with rubber
Leather or synthetic shoes
What Should I Do About Visits to the Doctor or Dentist?
Tell them about your latex allergy at least 24 hours before your appointment. The hospital or doctor's office should have a plan in place so that they can treat you without exposing you to latex.
If you have to stay in the hospital, you'll usually be given your own room, free of products that might give you a reaction.
Foods to Avoid
Certain ones can trigger a latex-like allergic reaction for some people. They include: