Give Online: Help shape patient care for generations to come.
Cleveland Clinic Logo

Diseases & Conditions

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.

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 (see below).

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 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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

True allergic reactions to latex rarely become life-threatening. However, when this does happen, the reaction can include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

If left untreated, a serious allergic reaction could potentially result in death. Severe reactions to latex have been associated with reactions that occur during a surgical procedure.

For this reason, patients who are allergic to latex and have exhibited the tendency to experience serious reactions should get a prescription for self-injectable epinephrine (adrenaline).

If you experience severe symptoms, call your doctor or 911 immediately, or go to the nearest emergency room.

How is latex allergy diagnosed?

Latex allergy is diagnosed by the use of skin prick testing and allergy blood testing by a board certified allergist. In certain cases, other forms of testing including a latex glove challenge (patients using latex gloves under medical supervision) can be used.

How is latex allergy treated?

The most important aspect of latex allergy management is avoidance of latex. If you have latex allergy, you may want to get a Medic Alert® bracelet indicating "allergic to latex" and carry self-injectable epinephrine with you.

There is no cure (such as allergy shots) for the treatment of latex allergy, so the best approach is prevention by strictly avoiding latex.

What if I have to go to the doctor?

If you have a documented latex allergy and must visit the doctor or dentist, tell the doctor about your latex allergy at least 24 hours before your scheduled appointment. The hospital or doctor's office should have a latex-free procedure for patients with the allergy, particularly before surgical procedures. If you have to stay in the hospital, you may be given your own "latex safe" area.

What foods may cause symptoms if I have a latex allergy?

The most common foods linked with potential symptoms among patients with latex allergy include:

  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Chestnuts
  • Kiwi

This is not an exclusive list. It’s best for people concerned with food reactions to be tested by a board certified allergist/immunologist.

Please note: Not all people with latex allergy will have adverse reactions to foods.

References

© Copyright 1995-2016 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/8/2016…#8623