Am Fam Physician. 2009;80(12):1419-1420
See related article on latex allergy.
What is a latex allergy?
It is a reaction you get from contact with latex products. The allergy is usually caused by the natural rubber protein in latex. Latex comes from tropical rubber trees. It is used to make everyday products and medical equipment. Some of these items include:
Bandages and adhesives
Pacifiers or baby bottle nipples
What are the symptoms?
A mild allergy may cause skin reactions (like rashes or hives), runny nose, cough, tightness in your chest, or watery eyes. For example, you may get bumps or sores on your hands after wearing latex gloves. A bad latex allergy may cause shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, or a rapid or weak pulse. These reactions may be life-threatening. If you have these symptoms, call 911.
Who gets it?
Anyone can get a latex allergy, but some people are at higher risk than others. These people include health care workers, patients with urinary tract problems, and patients who have had many operations or medical procedures. Children with certain birth defects, such as spina bifida (SPY-nuh BIFF-uh-duh), are at a high risk of latex allergy. People who work in the rubber industry are also at higher risk.
What should I do if I think I have it?
You should see a doctor who treats this allergy. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, and may do a blood or skin test.
Is it related to food allergies?
Some food allergies have been linked to latex allergy. You may be allergic to latex if you are allergic to bananas, avocados, chestnuts, kiwis, apples, carrots, celery, papayas, potatoes, tomatoes, melons, or several other foods. If you are allergic to latex, ask your doctor about which foods you should avoid.
How is it treated?
You should avoid using latex products if you have a latex allergy. Tell your doctor, family, friends, and coworkers about your allergy. If you have a serious allergy, you may need to wear a medical alert bracelet. You should also carry an epinephrine pen to give yourself a shot if you have a bad reaction. Use nonlatex gloves when possible. If you have to use latex gloves, use the powder-free kind to lower your risk of a reaction.
Where can I get more information?
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Latex Allergy Association
Web site: http://www.latexallergyresources.org
U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Web site: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/latexallergy/