Latex is a milky sap produced by rubber trees. The sap is blended with chemicals during manufacturing to give latex its elastic quality. Natural rubber latex is often found in rubber gloves, condoms, balloons, rubber bands, erasers and toys.
If you are allergic to latex your body treats latex as an allergen and sets off an allergic reaction. Latex allergies are most common in people who have regular exposure to latex products such as rubber gloves. That is why this allergy is most common among healthcare workers and people who have undergone multiple surgeries.
Approximately 50% of people with latex allergy have a history of another type of allergy. Certain fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, chestnuts, kiwi, avocado and tomato can cause allergic symptoms in some latex-sensitive individuals.
Allergic reactions to latex range from mild to very severe. Every year, there are hundreds of cases of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, due to latex allergy. The severity of allergic reactions to latex can worsen with repeated exposure to the substance.
Given the potential for a very serious allergic reaction, proper diagnosis of latex allergy is important. An allergist / immunologist has specialized training and expertise to accurately diagnose your condition and provide relief for your symptoms.
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There are different types of reactions that can occur upon contact with latex:
Delayed-type Contact Dermatitis
This condition appears 12 to 36 hours after contact with a latex product. Symptoms may include:
• Red skin
• Scaly skin
• Itchy skin
This type of reaction is usually triggered by the added chemicals in the rubber. Symptoms may be very irritating but typically not life-threatening.
Immediate Allergic Reactions
These reactions occur in people who have been previously exposed to latex and have become sensitized to the allergen which triggers the immune system to respond. With re-exposure to latex, symptoms may include:
• Sneezing or runny nose
• Coughing or wheezing
• Itchy throat
• Itchy, watery eyes
In the most serious allergic reaction, symptoms occur within minutes and involve multiple systems in the body. This life threatening condition is called anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis).
Symptoms of anaphylaxis typically involve more than one part of the body and may include:
• Red rash (usually itchy and may have welts/hives)
• Swollen throat or swollen areas of the body
• Passing out
• Chest tightness
• Trouble breathing
• Hoarse voice
• Trouble swallowing
• Stomach cramping
• Pale or red color to the face and body
If you think you might be allergic to latex, visit an allergist / immunologist to diagnosis your symptoms. Your allergist will take a thorough health history and then use tests to determine if you have allergies. Skin tests or blood tests are the most common methods for determining your triggers.
Proper diagnosis of food allergy or food intolerance by an allergist / immunologist is the first step to managing your condition.
If you are diagnosed with a food allergy, the treatment plan will be to strictly avoid that food. If you are diagnosed with an intolerance, you may be able to ingest small quantities without having a reaction.
There is currently no cure for food allergies; nor are there medicines to prevent reactions. Yet there are steps you should take to manage your condition. The most important of these is avoiding coming in contact with food proteins that can cause an allergic reaction.
Read food labels to ensure that you don’t eat foods that contain foods to which you are allergic. Always ask about ingredients when eating at restaurants or when you are eating foods prepared by family or friends.
If you have severe allergies to food, be sure to complete an Anaphylaxis Action Plan and carry your autoinjectable epinephrine with you at all times. Use this medication in the event of an anaphylactic reaction.
For milder reactions, antihistamines may help relieve symptoms. Be sure to discuss this approach with your allergist / immunologist.
Food allergies can be confusing and isolating. Contact Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) for patient support.
The Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Summary for Patients, Families, and Caregivers