Latex comes from rubber trees. Many people have a mild reaction to latex, but how do you know if you have a latex allergy?
What Is a Latex Condom Allergy?
Many products are made from latex, but gloves and condoms are probably the most well-known. Women are more likely than men to experience symptoms of a latex condom allergy. If you react to latex gloves, your hands may itch or feel irritated.
Condoms may trigger a more severe reaction because of the sensitivity of vaginal mucus membranes. It’s easier for latex to enter your bloodstream through mucus membranes than regular skin.
If you have a latex allergy, your body mistakes latex for a harmful substance. It then reacts by trying to fight off a dangerous substance, even though there isn’t one present. Longer or more frequent exposure to latex leads to more severe symptoms.
What Are the Signs of a Latex Condom Allergy?
Swelling and itching are common symptoms of a latex allergy. If the latex enters your system, you may have a more severe reaction, which can include:
- Runny nose or congestion
- Itching and watering eyes
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling in your throat
- In severe cases, anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction
What Are the Alternatives to Latex Condoms?
You can still practice safe sex even if you have a latex allergy. It’s a good idea to keep alternative condoms on hand because a sexual partner may not have latex-free condoms.
Female condoms. This type of protection is completely different from a regular condom. Instead of placing a female condom on the penis for protection, you place a pouch into your vagina. The pouch is made of silicone and has a flexible ring that offers a secure fit. Similar to a latex condom, female condoms have a lubricant layer for easy insertion. These condoms protect from both STDs and pregnancy.
Lambskin condoms. The material of which these condoms are made comes from sheep intestines. Lambskin condoms are the only fully hypoallergenic condom. They can prevent pregnancy but do not prevent STDs because the material is porous. Tiny viruses can get through the holes and lead to infection. If STDs are not a concern, lambskin condoms are a good choice. Otherwise, you should choose another alternative to latex condoms that does protect from STDs.
Polyurethane condoms. This type of condom is made from plastic instead of latex. You are protected from STDs and pregnancy, but the condoms do not fit snuggly like a latex condom. Polyurethane condoms may slip off during sex and cost more than their latex counterparts.
Polyisoprene condoms. Instead of natural rubber, these condoms are made of synthetic rubber. They do not have the same proteins as natural rubber from a rubber tree. Polyisoprene condoms tend to offer more stretch than regular latex condoms. They protect from STDs as well as pregnancy.
Who Is More at Risk of Using Latex Condoms?
Some people are more likely to have a latex condom allergy because of other health factors that include:
Spina bifida. This birth defect affects spinal development. Babies with spina bifida have early and frequent exposure to latex products like gloves, leading to a latex sensitivity. If you have spina bifida, take precautions to avoid latex products, including latex condoms.
Frequent surgeries. Any surgery or procedure that exposes you to latex products increases your risk of developing a latex allergy. Repeated exposure to latex gloves and medical products increases that risk. Surgeries are especially concerning, because more sensitive areas inside your body have exposure to latex.
Working in health care. Using latex gloves or other latex products frequently leaves you at a greater risk for a latex allergy. If you work in a health care setting, use latex-free gloves whenever possible in order to reduce your exposure.
Diet considerations. There are also connections between latex allergies and food allergies. Being allergic to latex means that you may also be allergic to:
- Passion fruit
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you suspect you have a latex condom allergy, talk to your doctor. If you experience irritation or discomfort during sex, try using a lubricant for less friction. Symptoms like swelling and itching may indicate a condom allergy. Your doctor can complete blood work to see if you’re allergic to latex.