Natural rubber latex is a milky fluid found in rubber trees. There is a protein in the fluid that can cause allergic reactions in some people. Some gloves, condoms, balloons, rubber bands, erasers, and toys are made using this natural rubber latex. Reactions to latex products happen when it comes in contact with the person's skin, mucous membranes (like the nostrils, mouth, or rectum), or the bloodstream (during surgery). For example, some people may react when blowing up a rubber balloon or breathing in powder from the inside of latex gloves. There are 2 types of latex allergy. One type can cause an immediate reaction, like someone with a peanut allergy may have after eating a peanut. The other type, which is much more common, causes a delayed skin rash, similar to a reaction from poison ivy.
Symptoms of latex allergy include:
Itchy or watery eyes
Wheezing or whistling sound with breathing
Hives or raised, itchy bumps on the skin
In some cases, severe reactions (anaphylactic shock) can happen and cause:
Swelling of the throat or tongue
Severe reactions need prompt emergency treatment.
People who have frequent exposure to latex from medical procedures are at greater risk for developing latex allergy. They include:
Children with spina bifida
Children born with defects of the urinary system
Children or adults who have had many surgeries
People who have allergies to certain foods may also have latex allergies. The foods include: bananas, avocados, chestnuts, kiwi, passion fruit, papaya, figs, peaches, nectarines, plums, tomatoes, and celery.
Many items are made from latex. These include:
Pacifiers, bottle nipples
Raincoats, rain boots
Surgical and exam gloves
IV tubing injection sites
Blood pressure cuffs
There are items that can be used in place of the items that contain latex. They are made from vinyl, plastic, or silicone.
Tips to coping with your latex allergy include the following:
Try to avoid all latex products. Use items that do not have latex in them.
If you need surgery or a procedure, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to prevent exposure and reactions to latex.
Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace with information about your allergy.
Carry a pair of nonlatex gloves with you, information about latex allergies, and/or a note from your healthcare provider.
Be sure medical and school records have a latex allergy alert.
For a child with a latex allergy, teach him or her to know and avoid latex products.
Ask your healthcare provider about self-injecting epinephrine (or Epi-pens). Have them at home, in the car, at school, day care, and work.
Know what to do in case of an emergency. Discuss this with your child's provider and school nurse (for a child with a latex allergy).
Avoiding latex may decrease the chance of children developing this allergy.
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