What to Know About Latex Allergies

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Latex, or natural rubber latex, is a common ingredient in many products people use on a daily basis, including gloves, pacifiers, balloons, athletic shoes, and even condoms. It's nearly impossible to avoid latex, as 12 million tons are produced every year, and over 40,000 consumer products contain latex.

For people sensitive to latex, their immune system has a hypersensitive allergic response to the proteins naturally occurring in the sap used to make latex. A latex allergy reaction can be as mild as a rash and stuffy nose or as life-threatening as anaphylaxis.

What to Know About Latex Allergies

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What Causes a Latex Allergy?

In the late 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended universal precautions to protect healthcare workers from blood-borne pathogens. As a result, the use of latex-based medical supplies and gloves, which provide barrier protection, increased significantly. A rise in latex allergies followed.

Allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system against substances called allergens. Latex is an allergen, and regular contact with latex can cause allergies. This puts healthcare workers and patients who undergo multiple medical procedures at high risk because many medical supplies contain the material, including surgical and exam gloves, medical catheters and tubing, elastic bandages and wraps, and even stethoscopes.

Worldwide, the prevalence of latex allergy is 9.7% among healthcare workers and 4.3% among the general population.

Spina Bifida Patients

People born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spine does not properly develop, have up to a 73% risk of latex allergy because of frequent exposure to latex from medical procedures and surgeries.

Types of Latex Allergy

There are three main types of latex allergies:

  1. IgE-mediated latex allergy (type I): This is an allergy to the natural rubber latex proteins. The body's immune system creates immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, which have a hyperactive response when they encounter the proteins in natural rubber latex. This allergic response can occur after contact through the skin, mouth, or lungs by breathing in airborne latex particles. People with this latex allergy can have a life-threatening reaction to latex known as anaphylaxis and should avoid latex as much as possible.
  2. Cell-mediated contact dermatitis (type 4): The chemicals used to make latex products cause skin inflammation, also known as dermatitis. This will typically occur 24–48 hours after exposure and may spread to the face. This allergy is not life-threatening.
  3. Irritant contact dermatitis: This is not an allergy, but a common reaction to natural rubber latex, particularly powdered latex gloves. Irritant contact dermatitis usually causes a red and itchy rash that breaks out where latex touched the skin. It may appear 12–24 hours after contact. For people who already have allergies, irritant contact dermatitis may be a warning sign that a latex allergy could develop.

Symptoms

People who are highly allergic to latex can have a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction from even a small amount of exposure. For the highly sensitive, a festive room full of latex balloons can be enough to trigger a reaction from latex particles in the air.

Some common latex allergy symptoms include:

  • Redness, itching, or swelling from blowing up a balloon or using a bandage
  • Mouth and tongue swelling or itching after a dental exam
  • Itching or swelling after a vaginal or rectal exam
  • Itching or swelling of the genitals after using a condom or diaphragm

More severe allergy symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Runny nose or sneezing
  • Inflammation, redness, and swelling of the eyes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis and Latex Allergy

Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction which requires immediate emergency medical attention. Anaphylaxis causes the throat to swell, which obstructs a person's airways, making breathing difficult. For severe allergies, a person should carry an injectable epinephrine device (EpiPen) at all times.

Common Products With Latex

It can be difficult to identify all products that contain latex, and, unfortunately, there's a lack of latex-free alternatives for many products. Some alternatives to latex include vinyl, silicone, and plastic.

Common household products that may contain latex include:

  • Rubber balls and beach toys
  • Balloons
  • Dental items, including mouthguards
  • Pacifiers and baby bottle nipples
  • Disposable diapers
  • Contraception, such as condoms and diaphragms
  • Art supplies
  • Rubber bands
  • Adhesive bandages and bandage wraps
  • Erasers
  • Handgrips on bicycles, scooters, and tennis rackets
  • Wheelchair tires
  • Athletic shoes
  • Raincoats

Medical items that may include latex include:

  • Medical and surgical gloves
  • Tubing for IVs (intravenous drips) and other medical equipment
  • Urinary and artery catheters
  • Adhesive tape
  • Bandages
  • Pads for electrodes
  • Blood pressure cuffs
  • Tourniquets
  • Stethoscopes

Latex Food Allergies

Between 21% and 58% of people with latex allergies are affected by cross-activity between certain foods that share a similar protein with the rubber tree sap that makes latex.

People with latex allergies may experience reactions to these foods, particularly fruits and nuts. Some foods that may cause an allergic reaction in people with latex allergy include:

  • Chestnuts
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Kiwi
  • Nectarines
  • Melons
  • Figs
  • Papaya
  • Jackfruit
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Carrots

Jackfruit and Latex Allergy

Jackfruit, a tropical tree fruit known as the world's largest fruit, is increasingly popular because of its versatility. Inside the green, bumpy rind is a stringy, sticky, rubbery, almost latex-like fruit. There are reported instances of people with latex allergy having consumed jackfruit and then experiencing an anaphylactic reaction. If you have a latex allergy, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should avoid jackfruit.

Treatment

The main treatment for a latex allergy is to avoid latex.

Common latex products can be manufactured using alternatives to latex items, such as vinyl, silicone, and plastic. Glove products can include nitrile and vinyl gloves. Mylar balloons can be used in place of latex balloons. Silicone and vinyl can be good substitutes for many items such as pacifiers.

Patients with life-threatening allergic reactions to latex should obtain and carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with them at all times for use in the event of anaphylaxis.

Treatment for mild latex allergy symptoms include antihistamines and hydrocortisone cream. Nasal steroids and decongestants are not typically needed.

A Word From Verywell

Allergies, especially severe and life-threatening allergies, can impact a person's quality of life. Latex allergies can be particularly challenging to manage because latex is an ingredient in so many products. If you notice symptoms of a latex allergy, talk to your healthcare provider about being diagnosed and treated for allergies.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get tested for a latex allergy?

    In the United States, there is no approved extract to diagnose latex allergy by skin test. Because of the risk of sensitizing a patient by exposing them to latex, latex is not usually recommended for use in skin testing. A specific IgE blood test can be used. A positive can be helpful in confirming a latex allergy. However, the blood test is not very sensitive, so patients with a history of anaphylaxis to latex will still likely be advised to avoid latex even if the blood test is negative.

  • Who is at the greatest risk for developing a latex allergy?

    People who come in contact with latex on a frequent basis are at a high risk for developing a latex allergy. This includes healthcare workers, who have a 9.7% risk, and patients with histories of multiple medical procedures (because of frequent exposure to latex from medical procedures and surgeries), who have a 7.2% risk. Also, people with spina bifida have up to a 73% chance of developing a latex allergy.

  • Can you grow out of a latex allergy?

    At this time, it's not clear if you can outgrow latex allergies. Hypersensitivities are usually considered to be lifelong. Reducing exposure may help prevent reactions. Typically, if latex exposure continues, latex sensitization can worsen and develop into a latex allergy, which can be severe and life-threatening.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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