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What is a latex allergy?

Latex allergy develops after contact with latex. Latex, also known as natural rubber, comes from the sap of the rubber tree. Rubber gloves are the main source of sensitization (development of hypersensitivity) and allergic reactions to latex.

A certain part of the latex substance itself is an allergen for many people. The powder in latex gloves is an airborne allergen that can also cause breathing problems in some people with latex allergy.

Who is affected by latex allergy?

People at increased risk for developing latex allergy include:

  • Healthcare workers including those in dentistry, animal laboratories, first response (emergency workers), and veterinary medicine
  • Workers in the rubber industry
  • Construction workers
  • Workers in food preparation
  • Workers in beauty industry such as hairdressers
  • Workers with plants such as gardeners
  • People with a history of multiple surgical procedures
  • People with known food allergies to banana, avocado, kiwi or chestnuts
  • People with atopy (history of allergies), asthma, or eczema
  • People with spina bifida
  • People born with urologic (urinary system) problems

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 sensitization and symptoms.

What are the symptoms of latex allergy?

If you have a latex allergic reaction, you may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Eye tearing and irritation
  • Nasal symptoms such as sneezing, drainage (runny nose), or congestion
  • Wheezing, chest constriction (tightness), cough, or shortness of breath
  • Itching
  • Feeling faint (drop in blood pressure)

Patients with latex allergy typically develop symptoms in response to wearing latex gloves and get a skin rash in the areas covered by the gloves (glove dermatitis).

Three types of glove dermatitis may occur:

  • Irritant dermatitis: The least threatening type of glove reaction, which is not considered to be an allergenic skin reaction. It results in dryness, itching, burning, and scaly lesions of the skin.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: A delayed hypersensitivity reaction to additives in latex. The rash can be severe, spread to more parts of the body, and last longer. It can lead to blistering of the skin.
  • Immediate hypersensitivity reaction (latex allergy): Potentially the most serious reaction to latex. It can appear as nasal/eye (rhinitis with hay fever-like) symptoms, immediate hives, severe itching, wheezing, or chest constriction. Rarely, symptoms may progress to a life-threatening reaction.