Latex allergy can cause skin symptoms such as rashes or swelling, as well as breathing difficulties and rhinitis. In some people it can cause the serious reaction of anaphylaxis.
Latex allergy is an allergic response to natural rubber latex, the milky liquid that comes from the rubber tree plant. This liquid is processed and used in a number of items that can trigger an allergic response in individuals who are allergic to latex.
It is the protein in the latex that causes an allergic reaction. In stretchy elastic products such as rubber gloves, condoms and balloons, the protein content is higher than in harder rubber products such as tyres and erasers, and is therefore more likely to cause a reaction.
Other products that are known to be a problem are: latex or rubber dummies and baby bottle teats; rubber stretching toys; rubber bands; some adhesive tapes and bandages; computer mouse mats and certain carpet backing, shower curtains, window insulation and clothing elastic.
Latex allergy can also be triggered by touching latex gloves. However, this is more likely with powdered gloves (the powder makes the gloves easier to remove), as the latex particles can attach to the powder and may cause a reaction when this powder is inhaled. It is for this reason that powdered latex gloves are now banned from most hospital settings.
The allergy is more likely to develop in those individuals who are in regular contact with latex, such as children who have had a number of operations, or those with spina bifida who may have had treatment with a number of products that contain latex.
It is also thought that some atopic individuals are more at risk because they are generally more likely to develop an allergy.
Certain foods, including bananas, avocados, kiwi fruit, chestnuts, mangoes, potatoes and tomatoes, contain similar proteins to latex and some people with latex allergy will have allergic reactions to these foods. This is called latex-fruit syndrome. The reactions to fruit usually involve symptoms in the mouth e.g. itching tongue or lip swelling.
Latex allergy confirmed with skin prick testing or a blood test. In some cases a challenge test may be performed in hospital conditions.
Effective treatment of latex allergy will incorporate avoidance of the triggers and there are alternatives to many traditional latex products, both in the medical environment and in daily life. It is particularly important to avoid exposure to latex during surgical operations in latex allergic people.
Treatment can also include anti-histamines, inhalers, and the use of adrenaline auto-injectors where anaphylaxis is a possibility.
Wearing identification jewellery should be considered so that others are made aware of the allergy.
For more information, see our factsheet on Rubber Latex Allergy.