A latex allergy happens when a person’s immune system launches an attack against natural rubber latex, which is used in many products. Allergic reactions to latex range from mild to severe, and they can even be fatal. There is no cure. People with this allergy should avoid latex.
A latex allergy is a reaction to natural rubber latex, a substance that comes from the sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). Many products are made with natural rubber latex, including rubber exam gloves, balloons and condoms. Reactions to latex range from mild to severe and can even be fatal.
People with latex allergies can have an allergic reaction when they inhale (breathe in) latex particles or come into physical contact with latex. Symptoms of a reaction to latex include skin irritation, rash, hives, runny nose and difficulty breathing. There is no cure for a latex allergy. People with this condition should avoid products with latex and consider the use of a med-alert bracelet.
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Latex allergies are rare. Less than 1% of people in the United States are allergic to latex. Latex allergies have decreased in recent years because more hospitals now use latex-free and powder-free gloves.
Anyone can develop a latex allergy, but some people have a higher risk of developing the condition. Risk factors for latex allergy include:
There are two types of allergic reactions to natural rubber latex. The types of latex reactions are:
Signs of an allergic reaction to latex can be mild or severe. They can appear right after exposure to latex or up to a few hours later. You might not have symptoms the first time you come into contact with latex. Latex allergy symptoms include:
During an IgE-mediated allergic reaction, your body’s immune system overreacts to a substance (like latex) that isn’t harmful to most people. Your immune system tries to protect you by releasing a chemical called histamine into your bloodstream. Histamine causes symptoms of an allergic reaction. You may experience hives, runny nose and trouble breathing.
An allergic reaction to latex can happen when you touch or come into contact with latex products. Your immune system may also react if you breathe in tiny latex particles in the air. You may not have a reaction the first time you’re exposed to latex. With each exposure, your allergic reactions may get worse.
Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms and exposure to latex. You should share information about other allergies you have, including reactions to foods. If you have a family history of allergies, tell your provider.
Your provider may order a blood test to check if you’re allergic to latex. Providers also use a skin prick test to diagnose a latex allergy.
This common test might be a little uncomfortable, but it isn’t painful. Your provider puts a small amount of latex on your skin (usually on your forearm or back) and scratches or pricks the skin with a needle. Scratching the skin allows a bit of latex to get under the surface.
If you’re allergic to latex, the area will become red and itchy. You may develop raised welts called wheals (they look like hives). The skin irritation and wheals show that your immune system is reacting. It usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes for a reaction to occur.
There is no cure for latex allergy. If you are allergic to latex, you should:
There is no way to prevent a latex allergy, but you may be able to avoid an allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to latex, you should avoid products that contain latex. Before a medical procedure or dental work, tell your providers about your allergy. Ask them to use latex-free gloves and equipment.
When ordering from a restaurant, if you have a severe latex allergy, ask the person who prepares your food to wear latex-free gloves.
Many everyday household items, medical equipment and clothing contain latex. It’s essential to read labels carefully. You should avoid products that contain latex, including:
Several foods can cause an allergic reaction in people with a latex allergy. Most people with latex allergy are not allergic to these foods, and you should only avoid them if directed by your allergy/ immunology healthcare provider. Foods more likely to cause a reaction in people with latex allergy include:
Most people manage a latex allergy with the help of an allergist (healthcare provider who specializes in allergies). By making lifestyle changes and avoiding foods that can cause a reaction, it is possible to avoid an allergic reaction. Talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to stay away from latex and stay safe.
If you think you’re having an allergic reaction to latex, see your provider right away. If your throat is swelling or you’re having trouble breathing, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Don’t ignore signs of an allergic reaction. A latex allergy can be fatal, and it’s essential to get help immediately.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people manage allergies by making lifestyle changes, such as reading labels carefully and avoiding certain foods. These changes aren’t always easy, but they are a vital part of staying well. With the help of an allergy specialist, you can lower your risk of an allergic response. 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 assistance.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2020.
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