Latex Allergy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Anyone who has been to a doctor’s office and seen or felt their gloves has a pretty good idea of what latex is like. For this reason, many people will likely be surprised to learn that a material like this can cause allergy symptoms in the same way pollen, food, and pet dander can. We’ll go over the causes, symptoms, and treatment of latex allergy to help you diagnose your symptoms and take action.
Natural rubber latex is a common ingredient used to create many household and medical products. It comes from the sap of a rubber tree called Hevea brasiliensis. Many products require the use of latex, especially medical products like:
- First aid tape
- Intravenous tubing
Natural rubber latex is also found in many common household items like:
- Rubber ducks
- Soccer balls and volleyballs
- House paints
- Cleaning gloves
- Carpet backing.
It’s worth noting that natural rubber latex is different from synthetic latex, the latter of which does not cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to natural rubber latex.
An allergic reaction occurs after you become allergic, or sensitized, to proteins in the latex. In other words, prolonged exposure to natural rubber latex will almost certainly lead to a latex allergy. Your body will identify the latex as a harmful substance, triggering antibodies in the immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream. People who are particularly at risk include:
- Healthcare workers and those who work in other fields which require regular use of latex gloves.
- People who have had multiple surgeries (around 10 or more), like children with spina bifida.
- People who are often exposed to natural rubber latex, like workers in the rubber industry.
- People with other allergies like hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or food allergies.
The two most common triggers of a latex allergy are:
- Direct contact: for example, an allergic reaction may occur after your dentist makes contact with your body during an operation. Or, you may be blowing up a balloon.
- Even if you do not touch latex directly, it’s possible for gloves and other latex products to shed particles, causing an allergic reaction after you breathe it in.
Latex allergy symptoms include hives, itching, and a stuffy or runny nose. Some might experience asthma symptoms like wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Most symptoms begin within minutes after exposure. In more severe cases, you may even experience anaphylaxis, a serious medical condition which makes it difficult to breathe and sends your body into shock due to a severe drop in blood pressure.
Your body may also react in ways unrelated to a latex allergy:
- If you have allergic contact dermatitis, you may notice skin rashes or blisters 24-48 hours after contact with latex.
- Irritant contact dermatitis is not an allergy; it’s a form of dermatitis caused by wearing rubber gloves or being exposed to the powder inside of them. You will notice dry, itchy, irritated skin typically on your hands following contact with a latex product.
Many people who are allergic to latex can often be allergic to cross-reactive foods. These include apples, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnuts, kiwi, melons, papaya, raw potatoes, and tomatoes.
In case of an emergency, you will need to carry medical alert identification, as well as an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector in case of anaphylaxis.
Of course, the best option is to prevent the reaction from occurring in the first place.
- If you are a healthcare worker, you and your co-workers will need to switch to synthetic gloves.
- Patients with latex allergies are also at risk of developing asthma symptoms from being exposed to aerosols containing latex.
- You will also need to avoid being in the vicinity of latex gloves and other products.
- Before going to your next dental, medical, or surgical procedure, warn your healthcare provider about your latex allergy. They will move you to a latex-safe area.
Need More Help with Your Allergies?
If you suspect you have a latex allergy, it’s a good idea to seek medical care. Dr. Shukla will use his expertise to diagnose your symptoms more accurately and determine the best treatment plan for you. Dr. Shukla has had his own practice for the past 15 years, and thousands of allergy patients in New York trust him with their health. You can rest assured that you are in good hands with him.