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Understanding Latex Allergies

Closeup of healthcare provider putting on surgical gloves.
Using nitrile gloves can reduce your exposure to latex.
An allergy is a sensitivity to a certain substance. If you have a latex allergy, you’re sensitive to natural rubber latex. This is a growing problem among people who work in health care. This sheet tells you more about the causes and symptoms of latex allergy.

What is latex?

Natural rubber latex is made from a liquid taken from the rubber tree. Common products that often contain latex include:

  • Surgical gloves

  • Balloons

  • Condoms

  • Urinary catheters

  • Resuscitation equipment

  • Diaphragms

  • Rubber bands

  • Rubber balls

  • Baby bottle nipples

How latex allergy develops

Latex protein is the allergen that causes latex allergy. The more a person is exposed to latex protein, the more likely he or she will develop latex allergy.

If the latex gloves are also powdered, the powder can carry particles of latex into the lungs. This can cause respiratory symptoms.

Know the symptoms of latex allergy

  • If latex touches your skin, you may have a local reaction. For instance, you may have a rash, hives, or blisters on your skin.

  • If latex gets into your lungs or bloodstream, you may have a systemic reaction. This means you may have symptoms that affect your whole body. For instance, you may have itchy eyes and sneezing. You may also have coughing, trouble breathing, and other symptoms.

  • In either case, symptoms can occur right away. Or they can occur many hours later. Also, symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Know the signs of anaphylaxis

In rare cases, latex allergy can cause a reaction called anaphylaxis. This problem can be fatal. It must be treated right away. First, use your epinephrine auto-injector if you have it with you. This is medicine that is often prescribed by the doctor if you have latex allergy. Also call 911 or go to the emergency room (ER). Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Severe hives and itchy skin

  • Swelling of the throat

  • Wheezing, inability to breathe

  • Facial flushing

  • Rapid, pounding heartbeat

  • Feeling faint; loss of consciousness

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.