Latex allergy is a reaction to certain proteins found in natural rubber latex, a product made from a milky fluid from rubber trees. If you have a latex allergy, your body mistakes latex for a harmful substance.
Latex allergy may cause allergic reactions ranging from skin irritation to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Your doctor can determine if you have a latex allergy or if you're at risk of developing a latex allergy.
Understanding latex allergy and knowing common sources of latex can help you prevent allergic reactions.
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:
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:
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:
It's possible to have other reactions to latex that aren't allergies to the latex itself. They include:
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.
Your doctor will want to know your history of reacting to latex, as well as other allergy signs and symptoms you've experienced. Your doctor may conduct a physical examination to identify or exclude other medical problems.
He or she may also recommend one or both of the following tests:
Many common products contain latex, but most have suitable alternatives. Prevent an allergic reaction to latex by avoiding these products:
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.
Certain people are at greater risk of developing a 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.