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Respiratory Institute Overview - Latex Allergies


What is latex?

Latex, also known as rubber or natural latex, is derived from the milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. This tree is found in Africa and Southeast Asia.

What is latex allergy?

Latex allergy develops after some sensitizing contact with latex. Rubber gloves are the main source of allergic reactions. A component of the latex substance itself is an allergen for many people. The latex glove powder residual is an airborne allergen which causes upper airway allergic reactions in some people, as well as worsening asthma.

What causes latex allergy?

The exact cause of latex allergy is unknown, but it is thought that repeated exposure to latex and rubber products may induce symptoms.

Who is affected by latex allergy?

People at increased risk for developing latex allergy include people who have:

  • Congenital urologic abnormalities
  • A history of multiple surgical procedureIntermittent catheterization
  • Dental dams for endodontic care
  • Atopy, asthma or eczema
  • Food allergies to banana, avocado, kiwi or chestnuts

In addition, about 5 to 10 percent of health care workers have some form of allergy to latex.

What are the symptoms of latex allergy?

If you experience a latex allergic reaction, you may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Eye tearing and irritation
  • Wheezing
  • Itching

What happens during an allergic reaction to latex?

There are three types of latex reactions, with increasing severity of symptoms, including:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis: the least threatening type of latex reaction, classified as a nonallergenic skin reaction. It results in dryness, itching, burning, scaling and lesions of the skin.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: a delayed reaction to additives used in the latex processing, which results in the same type of reactions as irritant contact dermatitis dryness, itching, burning, scaling and lesions of the skin), but the reaction is more severe, less localized (spreads to more parts of the body) and longer lasting.
  • Immediate allergic reaction (latex hypersensitivity) is the most serious reaction to latex. It can be shown as rhinitis with hay fever-like symptoms, conjunctivitis (pink eye), cramps, hives severe itching. Rarely, symptoms may progress to include rapid heart beat, tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, hypotension, anaphylactic shock, temporary loss of consciousness or potentially, death.

What should I do when a latex-allergy reaction occurs?

Allergic reactions to latex can range from skin redness and itching to much more serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, hives, or acute (sudden-onset) gastrointestinal problems.

True allergic reactions to latex rarely progress to life-threatening conditions, such as hypotension, difficulty breathing or rapid heart rate. However, if left untreated, it could potentially result in death.

If you experience severe symptoms, call your doctor immediately, or 9-1-1, or go to the nearest emergency room.

How is latex allergy diagnosed?

Latex allergy is diagnosed in patients who:

  • Have experienced signs or symptoms of allergic reaction (skin rash, hives, eye tearing or irritation, wheezing, itching, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness) when exposed to latex or natural rubber products.
  • A blood test is sometimes performed to detect certain types of allergy-producing antibodies if skin testing cannot be done.

How is latex allergy treated?

Reactions may be treated by removal of the offending latex product, and drug treatment according to the type of symptoms developing. If you have latex allergy, it is important for you to wear a Medic Allert bracelet and carry an emergency epinephrine syringe (Epi-Pen).

There is no cure for latex allergy, so the best treatment for this condition is prevention.

How can I make my home safe?

To ensure a latex-safe environment, you must make many lifestyle changes. While it may require leading a more protected and isolated life, you can continue certain activities when precautions are taken. These include:

  • Carrying basic latex alternatives and medical equipment at all times.
  • Keeping all shoes, boots and sneakers in covered containers.
  • Never traveling alone. Always travel with another person, especially to doctor appointments.
  • Planning in advance to ensure latex avoidance at any family function or party.

Because a latex allergy becomes worse with each exposure, you should be certain to avoid products containing latex. While it is difficult to obtain full and accurate information on the latex content of products, you may become fully informed by double checking with suppliers before buying a product.

The following list highlights some (but not all) of the latex products you should avoid in the home:

  • Rubber sink stoppers and sink mats
  • Rubber or rubber-grip utensils
  • Rubber electrical or water cords and 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/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 VCRs with rubber grips or keys
  • Camera, telescope or binocular eye pieces
  • Bathing caps and elastic in bathing suits

What products should I avoid outside the home?

  • Grocery store checkout belts
  • Restaurants which use latex gloves for food preparation (call ahead to ensure your safety)
  • Balloons
  • Auto races that emit tire and rubber particles
  • ATM machine buttons - often made of rubber

For a complete and accurate list of latex-safe products, visit the Latex Allergy Help website at http://www.latexallergyhelp.com/. Another resource is the CDC Latex Allergy Hotline at 1-800-356-4674 or http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/latex/. To check out a product's contents for sure, call the manufacturer.

What if I have to go to the doctor?

If you have a documented latex allergy and must visit the doctor or dentist, inform the doctor of your latex allergy at least 24 hours before your scheduled appointment. The hospital or doctor's office should have a latex-free protocol that they follow for patients with latex allergies. If you have to stay in the hospital, you will usually be given your own room, free of latex product.

When asked be certain to clearly tell all health care providers you are allergic to latex.

Do I have to change my diet?

Latex allergies may also cross over into food groups, or if you are already allergic to certain foods, you may be at risk for developing a latex allergy. The following foods can trigger a latex-like allergic reaction because the proteins in them mimic latex proteins as they break down in the body if you are allergic to latex:

  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Potato
  • Kiwi
  • Papaya
  • Fig
  • Pineapple
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Cherry
  • Strawberry
  • Melon
  • Nectarine
  • Grapes
  • Tomato
  • Celery
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Hazelnut
  • Chestnut

Note: not all people who have these food allergies will also have latex allergies.


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