What is latex allergy in adults?

The term latex allergy refers to the protein in the extract of the Brazilian rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). It also means “natural rubber products” made from this core. Latex is found in many products:

  • Balloons
  • Rubber bands
  • Condoms and diaphragms
  • Household rubber gloves
  • Rubber balls
  • Bandages etc.

Latex Allergy Symptoms

Common early symptoms are swelling, redness and itching after contact with latex substances:

  • Itchy or swollen lips after inflating a balloon
  • Itchy, red, or swollen skin after using a bandage
  • Swelling or itching of the mouth or tongue after a dentist uses latex gloves
  • Itching or swelling after vaginal or rectal examinations
  • Itching or swelling after using a condom

Persons who are highly allergic to latex may experience serious reactions from contact with latex. They can react even to latex that is in the same room near latex balloons or gloves, or to latex in the air. More severe reactions can include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Runny nose or sneezing
  • Eye inflammation
  • Breathing problems, including asthma symptoms
  • Anaphylaxis

Who gets Latex Allergy?

The highest risk occurs in children with spina bifida. Spina bifida is a condition in which the spine is not fully developed before birth. More than three in five children with spina bifida are allergic to latex. Children who have frequent medical treatments or long surgeries are also at high risk. Latex is used in many medical supplies – from gloves to tubes to enema tips.

8-17% of healthcare workers and others who regularly use latex gloves are allergic to latex. Healthcare professionals and children with other allergies and contact dermatitis are more likely to develop a latex allergy when using latex gloves.

More frequent cases of latex allergy in the 1980s and 1990s are not as common today as they used to be. Many healthcare organizations now use non-latex gloves and products.

How is a Latex Allergy Diagnosed?

If you think you may be allergic to latex, it would be helpful to consult a doctor. To diagnose a latex allergy, the doctor will ask you about your medical history and perform a physical examination. If latex allergy is suspected, a blood test may be ordered. Blood testing involves looking for latex antibodies in a blood sample. Your doctor compares the test results with your history and physical exam to diagnose a latex allergy.

Latex Allergy Treatment

If the symptoms are irritant contact dermatitis, antihistamine or corticosteroid medications may be sufficient to treat the symptoms. If the reaction is severe, you may need epinephrine, intravenous fluids and other emergency medical help. If you are allergic to latex, it is helpful to use an allergy bracelet or another type of identification for emergencies. If the doctor has recommended this, you should have two epinephrine vaccines with you against the risk of allergic shock (anaphylaxis).

Prevention of Allergy

Latex allergy can be aggravated by contact. If you know this is the case, be aware of products that have the potential to cause a reaction. Ask your doctor if you should avoid them.

Many items contain latex inside. You may need to ask product manufacturers to be sure. Household items made with latex and containing latex:

  • Rubber sink plugs and sink mats
  • Rubber or rubber grip containers
  • Rubber electrical cables or water hoses
  • Bath mats and rubber-backed floor rugs
  • Rubber handle toothbrushes
  • Rubber tub toys
  • Sanitary napkins (containing rubber)
  • Condoms and diaphragms
  • Diapers containing rubber
  • Adult underwear containing rubber
  • Waterproof mattress pads with rubber
  • Underwear, socks, and other elastic-band clothing containing rubber
  • Adhesives such as glue, paste, art supplies, glue pencils
  • Older dolls and other dolls made of rubber
  • Rubber bands, mouse and keyboard cables, table and chair pads, rubber stamps
  • Mouse and wristbands containing rubber
  • Keyboards and calculators with rubber keys or keys
  • Comfortable grip or any rubber coated pen
  • Remote controls for TVs or recorders with buttons or rubber grips
  • Eye parts of cameras, telescopes or binoculars
  • The elastic in shower caps and swimsuits

Outside the home, latex is also found in many items:

  • Latex gloves used by employees to prepare meals
  • Some balloons
  • ATM machine buttons made of rubber

Medical products containing latex:

  • Turnstiles
  • Blood pressure pads
  • ECG pads
  • Some adhesive bandages
  • Dental devices