What You Should Know About Latex Condom Allergies

A latex allergy is caused by proteins found in latex rubber, and may also be found in cross-reactive foods that share the same proteins, like avocados, bananas, and chestnuts. Your risk of developing a latex allergy increases the more you use latex products, like rubber gloves or condoms.

This article discusses a latex condom allergy, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and alternatives to latex condoms.

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Latex Condom Allergy Symptoms

Topical symptoms of latex condoms include itching, swelling, and redness around the skin and genitals. Systemic symptoms may include hives and a stuffy, runny nose, and may also cause asthma.

Allergic contact dermatitis, a secondary symptom, may crop up due to the chemicals used to manufacture rubber items, including condoms. Anaphylaxis is the most serious latex allergy symptom that involves severe breathing difficulties and shock as a result of blood pressure dramatically dropping.

Diagnosing a Latex Condom Allergy

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with a latex allergy, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. During your visit, your healthcare provider will review your medical history and do a physical exam. To confirm that it may be a latex allergy, you will have blood taken to see if you have any latex antibodies in your blood sample. 

There are three types of reactions to natural rubber latex:

  • IgE-mediated allergic reactions (Type I): This is an allergy to natural rubber latex proteins. The immune system makes immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, which react with latex proteins and cause allergy symptoms.
  • Cell-mediated contact dermatitis (Type IV): This is generally caused by a sensitivity to the chemicals used to make latex products. These chemicals can cause contact dermatitis 24 to 48 hours after exposure and if touched, spread to other areas of the body. 
  • Irritant contact dermatitis: It's a common reaction to natural rubber latex, but not an allergy. Symptoms include a red and itchy rash that appears 12 to 24 hours after contact.

Alternatives

If you and your partner are using latex condoms as a form of birth control and experiencing symptoms, consider using condoms made from other materials, such as polyurethane, lambskin, or polyisoprene.

Polyurethane Condoms

Polyurethane is a type of plastic and is a good alternative if you or your partner has a latex allergy. However, these types of condoms tend to tear more often than latex condoms. Most female condoms are made of polyurethane and can be inserted up to eight hours before intercourse. Polyurethane condoms also provide protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Lambskin Condoms

Lambskin condoms are made from lamb or sheepskin intestines. Compared to condoms made from latex or other synthetic material, lambskin condoms are more expensive. However, they are a good alternative if you have a latex allergy. Although lambskin condoms help prevent pregnancy, their large pores allow STIs to pass through. These pores are 10 times larger than the diameter of HIV and 25 times larger than the hepatitis B virus.

Polyisoprene Condoms

Polyisoprene condoms are thin, flexible, and comfortable. They are more expensive than latex and polyurethane condoms, but less costly than lambskin condoms. They impede pregnancy and STIs.

Similar Types of Condom-Related Allergies

Sometimes symptoms are not caused by a latex condom allergy but by the ingredients used in spermicide or vaginal lubricants.

Spermicide

Both men and women may have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to spermicide. Symptoms may include redness, itching, burning, and swelling surrounding the genitals. If the symptoms persist, avoid spermicidal products and speak with your healthcare provider. Compounds that may cause an allergic reaction include benzocaine, monophenoxypolyethoxy derivatives, hexylresorcinol, chloramine, quinine, or an added fragrance.

Nonoxynol-9, an ingredient in spermicide, may cause irritation or an allergic reaction if used several times a day. Skin irritations increase the risk for HIV and other STIs because they provide a pathway into the body.

Lubricants

Lubricants can aid in dryness caused by vaginal atrophy and enhance pleasure, but many of the ingredients may include glycerin, parabens, and propylene glycol, which may cause sensitivity or an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include, genital swelling, redness, itching, and burning. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you’re experiencing any discomfort from symptoms of using latex condoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. During your visit, openly discuss the specific symptoms you’ve experienced. From that discussion along with a physical examination, your healthcare provider will determine the next steps, which may include a blood test to see if latex antibodies are found in your blood.

Treatment

Once your healthcare provider confirms you have an allergy to latex, they will advise you to no longer use any latex products, including condoms. If you have a latex allergy, but symptoms are mild, your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter antihistamines that you can purchase at your local pharmacy. If symptoms are life-threatening, you will require immediate medical attention that will involve a trip to the emergency room for an injection of epinephrine.

Summary

A latex allergy is caused by certain proteins found in rubber plants. Condoms, as well as many household items (like balloons and rubber gloves), are made from latex. With repeated use of latex items, you may increase the risk of developing an allergy. Symptoms vary and can include skin redness, rashes, hives, and itchiness. There is no cure for a latex allergy. Your healthcare provider will recommend you see an allergist for a blood test to determine if latex antibodies are found in your blood. If you are diagnosed with a latex allergy, avoid all products made from latex.

A Word From Verywell

Among the many birth control methods that are available, latex condoms, if properly used, are the most effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs. However, long-term use of latex may increase your risk of developing an allergy. If you are diagnosed with an allergy, and condoms are your preferred form of contraception, consider an alternative brand that's made from other materials like polyisoprene or lambskin. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you test for a latex condom allergy?

    To confirm you have a latex allergy, you will undergo a physical exam and a blood test. The blood test will indicate whether you have latex antibodies in your body.

  • How long does a latex condom allergy last?

    There is no cure for a latex allergy. Avoidance of products, including condoms made from latex, is recommended. Latex allergy symptoms when using condoms may last several days. For relief, and depending on the severity of the symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter antihistamines.

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9 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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