Triggers and Symptoms of Latex Allergies

Does blowing up balloons leave you with itchy, swollen lips? Do Band-Aids irritate your skin? Do your hands feel raw after you do the dishes, even though you wear dishwashing gloves? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might have a latex allergy. Affecting about 6 percent of the population, a latex allergy is a reaction to proteins in natural rubber latex, which comes from the sap of the rubber tree. How do you know if you have this allergy, and how can you manage it if you are allergic to latex?

When someone with a latex allergy comes into contact with latex, the body mistakes latex for a harmful substance. This only happens with natural latex, and not with synthetic rubber that’s made from chemicals. Things like latex house paint to do trigger latex allergies, but many common products do.

Dishwashing gloves, balloons, rubber toys, hot water bottles, baby bottle nipples, rubber bands, erasers, swim goggles, bicycle and motorcycle handgrips, some types of carpeting and some disposable diapers are common items you might have around your home, but that you’d be better off avoiding if you have an allergy to latex. Medical supplies like blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, intravenous tubing, syringes, electrode pads, respirators, and surgical masks can all contain latex, as can condoms, diaphragms, and dental dams. What’s more, some fruits contain the same allergen that’s found in latex, so if you’re allergic to latex, you might also have a problem with avocado, bananas, chestnuts, kiwis, and passion fruit.

The symptoms of a latex allergy can vary from mild to severe. If you have a latex allergy, you might experience itching, hives, redness and swelling, or a rash, but if your allergy is severe, you risk anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. You don’t even need to come into direct contact with latex to have an allergic reaction: some people experience severe asthma or even anaphylaxis just from breathing in airborne particles of latex protein.

Some people are at higher risk of developing latex allergy than other people. If you are a healthcare worker or someone else who often wears latex gloves, if you’ve had many surgeries, if you are often exposed to natural rubber latex, or if you or your family members have other allergies, you’re more likely than others to develop an allergy to latex. The people at highest risk of latex allergy are those with spina bifida, a birth defect affecting the spine’s development. The risk is high because people with this condition are exposed to latex frequently and early in life while receiving health care.

If you suspect you may be allergic to latex, a board-certified allergist can determine whether this is an accurate diagnosis, and help you develop a plan to manage it. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, examine your skin, and perform a skin test to see how your skin reacts to the latex protein. You might also have a blood test to check for latex sensitivity.

There’s no cure for latex allergy. There are medications that can reduce the symptoms, but the best way to avoid an allergic reaction to latex is to stay away from products that contain latex. Sometimes, it’s hard to avoid latex, so if you have ever had a severe reaction to latex, you may need to keep injectable epinephrine with you wherever you go. If you experience anaphylaxis, you should go to the emergency room for immediate treatment.

Understanding your allergies can help you live a healthy, symptom-free life. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist, you can be confident that your doctor will help you find the solutions you need to manage your allergies. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM, all physicians are board-certified in allergy and immunology and can help you identify triggers and learn to control your symptoms. Call 610-825-5800 or visit the website for an appointment, or to learn more about available services.