Latex Allergy

What is a latex allergy?

Latex is made from a milky fluid that comes from the rubber tree. It is used to make many products used at home and in healthcare, like balloons, toys, and gloves.

An allergy is your body’s reaction to a substance that is normally harmless. With a latex allergy, your body sees latex as harmful or foreign and your immune system reacts to the latex.

What is the cause?

Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. Before you can have a reaction to a particular substance, your immune system must first be sensitive to it. Usually this means your body has to have been exposed to the substance at least once before. Once it is sensitive to it, your body will react every time you have contact with the substance.

Anyone can get a latex allergy. You may have a higher risk if:

  • You have had a lot of medical procedures.
  • You work in healthcare and have used latex products, such as gloves or other equipment.
  • You have allergies to foods with proteins similar to the proteins in latex. These foods include apples, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, papayas, melons, potatoes, and tomatoes.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can develop over several hours or they may start right away. Symptoms of a mild allergy may include:

  • Sneezing, stuffy or runny nose
  • Itching, a rash, or hives (raised, red, itchy areas on the skin)
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction may include:

  • Severe trouble breathing, including wheezing
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Hives
  • Pale, cool, damp skin
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling intense fear that something terrible is about to happen
  • Drowsiness, confusion, or fainting

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. A blood test can show if you are allergic to latex.

How is it treated?

There is no specific treatment for latex allergy symptoms. If you have a mild skin reaction, your healthcare provider may recommend a steroid cream to decrease your symptoms.

Your provider may prescribe an emergency kit if you have a severe allergy. It contains a ready-to-use injection of epinephrine. Epinephrine relaxes the muscles in your airways and throughout your body. It is usually given as a shot. You may need more than one shot to decrease your symptoms. If you are known to have a serious reaction, your provider may want you to carry an emergency kit. You or someone with you can give you the shot. Whether or not you have epinephrine, call 911 or your local emergency services right away for all severe allergic reactions.

How can I take care of myself and prevent a latex reaction?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Avoid contact with things that may contain latex. Any item that can be stretched may contain latex. Examples of products that may contain latex are:
    • Many kinds of gloves
    • Baby care items such as pacifiers, bottle nipples, and disposable diapers
    • Some clothing items like sport shoes, raincoats, and elastic on underwear
    • Some tools used during dental procedures
    • Some tapes and bandages
    • Medical supplies such as IV tubing and catheters
    • Condoms
    • Rubber balloons (mylar balloons are OK)
    • Toys such as tennis balls, beach and water toys, and the hand grips on racquets and bicycles
    • School, office, or craft supplies, like paint, glue, rubber bands, and erasers
    • Zippered plastic storage bags
    • Rubber conveyer belts at store checkout stands

    There are many things made from vinyl, plastic, or silicone that can be used instead of latex products.

  • Ask your healthcare provider if you should avoid foods such as bananas, avocados, kiwi fruit, and chestnuts.
  • If you were prescribed an emergency kit, carry it at all times. Use it as directed by your provider. Check the expiration date for the medicine and replace it as needed to make sure it will work. Teach family members and coworkers how to help you if you have a severe reaction.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that warns of your allergy and tells what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Tell all healthcare providers, including dentists, that you have a latex allergy. Make sure that your medical records have a latex allergy alert.
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-04
Last reviewed: 2014-09-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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