Treating Latex Allergies
Latex comes from the sap of a natural rubber tree. People with latex allergies have extra-sensitive immune systems. A latex allergy causes your body’s immune system to recognize and react to latex, which is normally harmless.1-3
This immune system response is called sensitization. You do not have to be in direct contact with latex to have an allergic reaction. Some people react if they touch something with latex in it. Others are sensitive to airborne latex particles, like dust or powder released when removing powdered latex gloves.2
There is no cure for latex allergies, but allergic reactions can be treated. The main goal of most latex allergy treatment is to avoid latex as much as possible.
Avoiding latex products
Avoiding latex is the most effective and least expensive way to handle a latex allergy.
However, it is hard to be sure any setting is latex-free without knowing which products may contain natural rubber latex. There are more than 40,000 products in the home and workplace that may contain latex. Some of the most common products include:4,5
- Medical gloves
- Pacifiers and baby bottles
- Elastic in waistbands
- Rubber bands
- Toys and sports equipment like balls and dolls
- Some condoms and diaphragms
- Stethoscope tubing
- Blood pressure cuffs
- Adhesive bandages
- Some dental devices
Some of the ways you can avoid latex include:4,5
- Talk to your school or workplace about creating a latex-safe environment
- Ask that co-workers wear only vinyl or nitrile gloves
- Request your healthcare team use latex-free gloves and equipment
- Check labels to see if products contain latex
- Carry non-latex gloves
Remember, hypoallergenic does not mean something is latex-free. You can also protect yourself by wearing medical alert jewelry and carrying epinephrine auto-injection pens. This is something your doctor will prescribe. It is important in case you have a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.2,5
Types of latex allergies
There are different types of latex allergies:6
- Allergic contact dermatitis: An itching skin rash that appears 1 to 4 days after direct contact with a rubber latex. The skin may look red and have small, fluid-filled blisters. The rash can become crusted and the skin leathery-like after prolonged latex exposure.
- Allergic contact urticaria: Raised, red, itchy hives that appear 10 to 15 minutes after exposure to latex.
- Rhinoconjunctivitis and asthma: Handling powdered latex gloves can cause them to release airborne allergens. These latex allergens can cause a stuffy nose, congestion, and itchy eyes. They may also cause narrowing of the airways, leading to wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- Anaphylaxis: Life-threatening, severe allergic reaction after latex exposure.
Medical devices and procedures
If you need an exam, surgery, or other kinds of medical or dental procedures, make sure your healthcare team knows you have a latex allergy. You can request everything used be latex-free.
Latex allergic reactions include a rash, hives, itching, and swelling around the point of contact. This may appear right away or be delayed, appearing hours to days later. Your allergist may prescribe an antihistamine to treat symptoms of a mild latex reaction, such as hives. There are also itch-relief lotions and creams like calamine or hydrocortisone.1,3
Your doctor may also recommend epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Epinephrine is important to keep with you in case you experience a severe reaction. Carrying epinephrine is part of an anaphylaxis action plan.4
Seek immediate medical care if you have trouble breathing or if multiple symptoms develop at the same time. This can be a sign of a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis include:5
- Runny nose
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Your anaphylaxis action plan may tell you to inject your epinephrine and call 9-1-1 in these cases.
Avoiding some foods
Some people with latex allergies also have food allergies. This is because latex and some foods both have proteins that look similar to your immune system. Eating these foods can cause a reaction similar to a reaction to latex. The foods you may need to avoid include:4,6
- Bell peppers
- Passion fruit
Other things to know
Immunotherapy is usually not done for latex allergies due to the high risk of triggering anaphylaxis. The success of immunotherapy is also variable. Anti-IgE therapy is also not an option for latex allergy.5