What is latex allergy?

Latex allergy: Overview

Latex is a natural rubber made from a type of tree. Some people have allergic reactions after contact with things made of latex, such as latex gloves. In an allergic reaction, the immune system starts fighting a substance that is normally harmless, such as latex, as though it were trying to harm the body.

Latex allergies may cause mild symptoms, such as a rash on the skin. Severe reactions to latex are more serious. They need to be treated right away. They can cause trouble breathing and can even be life-threatening.

The best way to manage a latex allergy is to avoid products that have latex. Make sure that you know what to do if you or your child has an allergic reaction to latex. Have the recommended medicines, such as antihistamines or an epinephrine shot, available.

What are the symptoms of a latex allergy?

Allergic reactions to latex can vary from mild to life-threatening. Or they may progress from a mild reaction to a more severe one. Symptoms may include:

  • Skin reactions such as contact dermatitis, hives, or widespread itching.
  • Respiratory reactions.
    • With a mild reaction, a person may sneeze, cough, or have a runny nose.
    • With a severe reaction, a person may have shortness of breath from swelling of the throat (angioedema). Or the person may have severe wheezing (allergic asthma).
  • Life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).

How is a latex allergy treated?

Avoiding latex is the best treatment. Severe reactions may need to be treated in a hospital. If you've had a severe reaction to latex before, carry an epinephrine shot. Be sure you know how to give yourself the shot. Take a nondrowsy antihistamine, such as loratadine (Claritin), to help treat mild symptoms.

How can you avoid latex if you have a known latex allergy?

If you have a known latex allergy:

  • Avoid any skin contact with latex products. Health care workers should use hypoallergenic nonlatex gloves.
  • Avoid breathing the air where powdered latex gloves are being used. The latex particles in the gloves stick to the cornstarch used to powder the gloves. When the cornstarch flies through the air, it can be inhaled. This can cause a lung reaction.

How is a latex allergy diagnosed?

A latex allergy is diagnosed with a physical exam and other tests. You will be asked about your symptoms and any recent exposure to latex. The doctor may also ask a lot of questions about your past health. Tests may include:

  • A blood test. This can detect latex antibodies.
  • Skin tests. These can detect an allergic reaction to latex exposure.

Skin tests should always be done by doctors who are experienced and equipped to respond to a severe reaction.

How can you care for your child who has a latex allergy?

  • Have your child avoid products that contain latex. These products may include:
    • Diapers.
    • Pacifiers and baby bottle nipples.
    • Balloons and rubber toys.
    • Rubber bands.
    • Computer mouse pads.
    • Medical items, such as gloves, drains, tourniquets, urinary catheters, wraps, and adhesives used for bandages and tapes.
  • Always tell your health care providers that your child has a latex allergy.
  • Ask the doctor about giving your child a nondrowsy antihistamine, such as loratadine (Claritin), to help treat mild symptoms. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Mild symptoms include sneezing or an itchy or runny nose; an itchy mouth; a few hives or mild itchy skin; and mild belly pain or nausea.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a shot of epinephrine for you or your child to carry in case your child has a severe reaction. Learn how to give your child the shot. Older, mature children should be taught to give themselves the shot. Make sure it is with your child at all times. Make sure it has not expired.
  • Talk to your child's teachers and caregivers. Teach them what to do if your child has an allergic reaction to latex. Keep an epinephrine shot at your child's school or day care in case your child has a reaction.
  • Have your child wear medical alert jewelry that lists all allergies. You can buy this at most drugstores.

What puts you at risk for a latex allergy?

People who have allergies to certain foods are more likely to have a latex allergy. These foods include bananas, chestnuts, kiwifruit, avocados, and tomatoes. People with latex allergies may get allergies to these foods because the protein in the foods is similar to the protein in rubber.

Latex allergies are also more common in people who have a history of atopic dermatitis. This is a skin condition that causes intense itching and a rash. In lighter skin, the rash may look pink or red. In darker skin, the rash may be hard to see or it may look dark brown, gray, or purple. Or there may be patches of lighter skin.

What is a latex allergy?

A latex allergy is an allergic reaction that happens after repeated contact with latex, such as latex gloves. It affects people who are often exposed to rubber products.

What products may cause an allergic reaction to latex?

Medical products that may contain latex include:

  • Gloves.
  • Drains, tourniquets, urinary catheters, and wraps.
  • Adhesives used for dressings and tapes.

Personal or household products that may contain latex include:

  • Contraceptives, such as condoms and diaphragms.
  • Diapers and sanitary pads.
  • Pacifiers and baby bottle nipples.
  • Balloons and rubber toys.
  • Rubber bands.
  • Computer mouse pads.

Latex allergy: When to call

Give an epinephrine shot if:

  • You think you are having a severe allergic reaction.

After giving an epinephrine shot call 911, even if you feel better.

Call 911 if:

  • You have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. These may include:
    • Sudden raised, red areas (hives) all over your body.
    • Swelling of the throat, mouth, lips, or tongue.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Passing out (losing consciousness). Or you may feel very lightheaded or suddenly feel weak, confused, or restless.
    • Severe belly pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • You have been given an epinephrine shot, even if you feel better.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:
    • A rash or hives (raised, red areas on the skin).
    • Itching.
    • Swelling.
    • Mild belly pain or nausea.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.