Latex Allergy

A latex allergy is a reaction to natural rubber latex that can cause hives, itching, swelling, runny nose and watery eyes. Severe reactions can be life-threatening. Management includes avoiding latex and carrying an epinephrine auto-injector. Call 911 or get to an emergency room if you have face swelling or trouble breathing or swallowing.


What is a latex allergy?

A latex allergy is a reaction to natural rubber latex, a substance that comes from the sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). It can cause skin irritation like itching, rash or hives, or allergy symptoms like a runny nose and watery eyes. These reactions can get worse with additional exposures to latex.

Allergies happen when your immune system mistakenly thinks something is harmful and then tries to protect your body from it. People with latex allergies can have an allergic reaction when they inhale latex particles or come into physical contact with latex.

Common products made with natural rubber latex include medical exam gloves, balloons, elastic used in clothing and condoms. Reactions to latex can range from mild to severe and can even be fatal. If you or someone you know have severe swelling or can’t breathe, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Types of latex allergy

Types of reactions to latex include:

  • IgE-mediated latex allergy (type I hypersensitivity): If you have a type I latex allergy, you’re allergic to a protein from the natural rubber tree. During an IgE-mediated allergic reaction, your body’s immune system overreacts to a substance (like latex) that isn’t harmful. This causes allergy symptoms like a runny nose and itchy eyes. IgE-mediated latex allergies can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis.
  • Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash you can get after using latex products. An allergy to the chemicals used to make latex products, rather than the proteins in rubber, can cause this type of contact dermatitis (also called cell-mediated or type IV dermatitis). These reactions can take a few hours to a day or two to start. You can also have a skin reaction to latex that’s not a true allergy (irritation contact dermatitis). People with contact dermatitis can also develop an IgE-mediated latex allergy.

What does a latex allergy look like?

Contact dermatitis from latex can make your skin red, swollen and itchy. You might get hives or a rash on your skin. Or latex allergies can cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), like sneezing, a runny nose and red, itchy eyes.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a latex allergy?

Latex allergy symptoms include:

  • Itching.
  • Redness.
  • Swelling under your skin (angioedema).
  • Rash or hives.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sneezing.
  • Itchy, watery eyes.
  • Wheezing.
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing.

How long does it take for symptoms of a latex allergy to start?

Allergic reactions can start within a few minutes of exposure to latex or show up a few hours later. Contact dermatitis symptoms can start within a day or two of contact with latex. You might not have symptoms the first time you come into contact with latex — you can develop the allergy over time. It can also get more severe with each exposure.

How do you know if you’re allergic to latex?

A healthcare provider can diagnose you with a latex allergy, but you might suspect you have one if you have a reaction after you’ve been in contact with latex. This could include:

  • You have allergy symptoms, like runny nose, itchy eyes or wheezing after touching or being exposed to latex products.
  • Your lips itch after blowing up a latex balloon.
  • You get a rash, hives or other skin irritation on your hands when you wear latex gloves.
  • You get a rash, hives or other skin irritation after someone who’s wearing latex gloves examines you.
  • During or after sex using a latex condom, your genitals, hands, mouth or other areas that touched the condom are irritated, itchy or swollen. Keep in mind that spermicide, lubricant and semen can also cause reactions.

What causes a latex allergy?

Latex allergies happen when your immune system thinks latex proteins are harmful and then tries to get rid of them. Exposure to latex can cause your immune system to make IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies. Antibodies help your immune system identify harmful substances and help get rid of them. Your immune system sometimes mistakenly thinks pollen and other substances — like latex proteins — are harmful. It makes antibodies to recognize and label them for other immune cells to get rid of.

Once your body makes IgE antibodies, they attach to immune cells and look for harmful substances. When you come in contact with latex again, IgE antibodies recognize the protein and alert your immune system to flush it out by releasing a chemical called histamine. Histamine opens up your blood vessels and causes inflammation, leading to symptoms of an allergic reaction, including hives, runny nose and trouble breathing. In contact dermatitis, other types of immune cells cause inflammation in your skin.

An allergic reaction to latex can happen when you touch or come into contact with latex products. Breathing in tiny latex particles from the air can also sometimes cause a reaction. You may not have a reaction the first time you’re exposed to latex. With each exposure, your allergic reactions can get worse.

What are the risk factors for a latex allergy?

Anyone can develop a latex allergy, but some people are at higher risk. You might be at higher risk for developing a latex allergy if you have:

  • Occupational exposure to latex. Frequent contact with latex can cause your body to become sensitized to it. People who regularly wear latex gloves are more likely to develop an allergy to it. If you work in healthcare, dental care, veterinary medicine, hairdressing or food preparation, you might be at increased risk for a latex allergy.
  • Frequent surgical procedures. Children and adults who’ve had multiple surgeries have an increased risk of developing a latex allergy. Children with spina bifida are especially likely to have a latex allergy because they often undergo multiple medical procedures at a young age. Medical supplies for these procedures (including catheters and gloves) often contain latex.
  • Food allergies. People who are allergic to latex may also be allergic to certain foods, including bananas, kiwis, avocados and chestnuts. The connection between latex allergies and food allergies is called latex-food syndrome.

How common is latex allergy?

Less than 1 in 100 people (1%) are allergic to latex. It’s more common in healthcare workers or people with other risk factors.


What are the complications of latex allergy?

Severe allergic reactions to latex can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe swelling that can close off your airways and drop your blood pressure to dangerously low levels (shock).

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a latex allergy diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms and exposure to latex. They may order allergy blood tests or skin tests.

Tell your provider if you:

  • Have a history of food allergies or other allergies.
  • Have family members with allergies.
  • Use latex products as part of your job or hobbies.
  • Have had surgeries or other medical procedures.

What tests are used to diagnose a latex allergy?

To diagnose a latex allergy, your provider might use:

  • Blood tests: To test for an IgE-mediated latex allergy, your provider might order a blood draw. A lab tests the blood sample to see if you have IgE antibodies that react to latex proteins.
  • Skin tests: During a skin test, your provider scratches or pricks your skin with a small amount of latex proteins. They measure how much your skin reacts, if at all.


Management and Treatment

How do you treat latex allergies?

There’s no cure for a latex allergy — avoiding latex is the only way to prevent a reaction. To treat or prevent an allergic reaction to latex, your provider may prescribe:

  • Antihistamines: If your reaction to latex is mild, antihistamines may help minimize your symptoms if you have to come in contact with latex.
  • Epinephrine: Providers treat severe allergic reactions with epinephrine. You can also carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen®, Auvi-Q®) to treat or prevent a severe reaction while you get to an emergency room.
  • Steroids: Steroids can calm down your immune system and reduce swelling.


Can latex allergies be prevented?

The best way to prevent latex allergy is to avoid latex. That means checking product labels on everything from the clothing and shoes you wear to household items like rubber bands and bandages. If tests show you have a latex allergy, ask your provider for a complete list of potential sources.

You should also:

  • Tell providers, caregivers, teachers and friends that you’re allergic.
  • Avoid areas where latex may be in the air, such as a hospital room where providers use latex gloves.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about wearing a medical alert bracelet. In a medical emergency, the bracelet lets others know you’re allergic to latex.
  • Before a medical procedure or dental work, tell your providers about your allergy. Ask them to use latex-free gloves and equipment.
  • If your provider diagnoses you with an IgE-mediated latex allergy, you should carry injectable epinephrine with you. Show caregivers, friends and family members how to give you an injection if you’re having a reaction and can’t inject yourself.
  • When ordering from a restaurant, if you have a severe latex allergy, ask the person who prepares your food to wear latex-free gloves.

What products contain latex?

Products that might contain latex include:

  • Balloons.
  • Cleaning and medical gloves.
  • Parts of clothing and shoes, like raincoats and rain boots, shoe soles and elastic waistbands in underwear.
  • Household items, including rubber bands, carpet backing, toys and bandages.
  • Personal care items like sanitary napkins, condoms and diaphragms.
  • Pacifiers and nipples for baby bottles.
  • Some types of makeup, face paint and masks used for costumes.

What foods should I avoid if I have a latex allergy?

Some foods can cause an allergic reaction in people with a latex allergy. Foods more likely to cause a reaction in people with latex allergy include:

  • Chestnuts.
  • Certain fruits, including apples, bananas, avocados, peaches, kiwis, nectarines, melons, figs, papayas and tomatoes.
  • Some vegetables, including potatoes, celery and carrots.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a latex allergy?

Most people manage a latex allergy with the help of an allergist. By making lifestyle changes and avoiding latex products and certain foods, you can minimize your risk of reaction. Talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to avoid latex and stay safe.

Living With

How do I manage a latex allergy?

If you have a latex allergy, you need to be vigilant about avoiding anything that you know may cause an allergic reaction. Household items, medical equipment and clothing can contain latex. Read labels carefully. Let healthcare providers, who may examine or treat you with products that contain latex, know about your allergy.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See a healthcare provider if you think you have a latex allergy. They can help you understand what kind of allergy you have and what kind of precautions to take.

When should I go to the ER?

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you have any signs of a severe allergic reaction, including:

  • Face swelling.
  • Tongue swelling.
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

It might be helpful to ask your healthcare provider:

  • How serious is my allergy?
  • What foods and products should I avoid?
  • Would any treatments or medications help?
  • Will this get worse over time?
  • What signs of a severe reaction should I look for?

Additional Common Questions

Does latex paint trigger a latex allergy?

No, latex paint shouldn’t trigger allergic reactions to latex. It’s made from synthetic latex, not the natural rubber latex that causes a latex allergy. But other chemicals in latex paint could irritate your skin or airways.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Having a latex allergy can feel daunting. With many common products containing natural rubber latex, it can be a challenge to avoid every one. But with the help of an allergy specialist, you can lower your risk of exposure and know what to do if you have a reaction. Learn to recognize signs of a reaction so you can get help right away, and let others know about your allergy so they can act fast if you need help.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/19/2024.

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