What Are the Symptoms of Latex Allergies?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: March 2022 | Last updated: August 2022
Natural rubber latex comes from the sap of the rubber tree and is in many products. When a person with a latex allergy comes into contact with one of these products, an allergic reaction can occur. Knowing the signs of an allergic reaction can help you recognize symptoms sooner and get help faster.
Types of reactions
The kinds of reactions to latex range from mild to severe and even life-threatening. The 3 types of reactions are:1
- IgE-mediated allergic reaction, also known as type 1
- Cell-mediated contact dermatitis, also called type 4
- Irritant contact dermatitis
An IgE-mediated allergic reaction (type 1) is the reaction most people think of when the term “latex allergy” is used. These reactions are immediate and can be severe and even life-threatening. People with this reaction must completely avoid latex. This includes breathing in latex particles and touching latex.1
Cell-mediated contact dermatitis (type 4) is skin inflammation. Unlike a type 1 reaction, this reaction is not life-threatening and is delayed. The reaction tends to happen 1 to 3 days after exposure to latex. The irritation can spread to other areas of the body. The symptoms usually resolve on their own. Four out of 5 people who develop a type 1 latex allergy have a type 4 reaction first.1
Irritant contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash that occurs where latex has touched the skin. It is the most common reaction to latex gloves. It looks like cell-mediated contact dermatitis but is not technically an allergy. It is caused by sweating inside gloves, contact with powders in the gloves, and frequent hand washing and hand sanitizer use in people who wear latex gloves. Symptoms usually appear 12 to 24 hours after contact.2
After contact with natural rubber latex products, early symptoms usually include hives, itching, redness, and swelling. Examples include:1
- Itchy or swollen lips after blowing up a balloon
- Sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes after contact with a latex product
- Itchy, red, or swollen skin after using a latex bandage
- Swelling or itching of the mouth and tongue after going to a dentist who used latex gloves
- Itching or swelling after a medical exam if the doctor used latex gloves
- Itching or swelling after using condoms or a diaphragm
Signs of a severe reaction
Some people who are allergic to latex have more severe reactions. These symptoms may develop after direct contact or breathing in small latex particles from balloons or gloves. Symptoms of a more severe allergic reaction include hives and swelling combined with more symptoms such as:1
- Sneezing or runny nose
- Eye redness and swelling
- Trouble breathing, wheezing, or an asthma attack
Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, and immediate medical attention is required. This usually means giving yourself (or asking someone else to give you) a dose of epinephrine through an auto-injector and calling 9-1-1. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:3
- Trouble breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Loss of consciousness
Things to consider
Your allergic symptoms may change each time you come into contact with latex or latex-sensitive foods. Just because you had a mild reaction to 1 exposure does not mean you will have a mild reaction the next time.
That is why it is important to keep your prescription medicines for a latex allergy with you at all times. This includes at least 2 epinephrine auto-injectors if you have had a type 1 or type 4 reaction to latex in the past. People with irritant contact dermatitis do not generally need to carry epinephrine.