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Posted on: December 14, 2020

What is a Latex Allergy?

Latex is a natural stretchy rubber sap that comes from rubber trees and is found in much more than balloons and rubber gloves. Latex can also appear in all sorts of items like paint, toys, and bandages.

If you have a latex allergy or you suspect that you do, you probably have some questions like “How do you know if you’re allergic to latex?” or “What treatment options are available for a latex allergy?”

In this article, we’ll address those questions and many others, so you pursue a diagnosis and treatment for your latex allergy.

What Is a Latex Allergy?

When people have an allergic reaction to latex, their body is responding to the proteins found within a natural rubber. Latex is found in a type of sap produced by the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis. The sap that comes from this tree is stretchy and rubber-like.

Which items do use natural rubber latex that might make you symptomatic? The list is quite long:

  • Computer and laptop switches and buttons
  • Dental and medical equipment such as dressings, catheters, stethoscopes, syringes, intravenous tubing, and dental dams
  • Menstrual pads
  • Diapers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Tool handles as well as those on sports rackets
  • Underwear or raincoats with elastic
  • Pacifiers
  • Carpet backing
  • Some paint
  • Toys
  • Bandages and dressings
  • Shoe soles
  • Rubber bands
  • Contraceptives like diaphragms and condoms
  • Balloons

Even if you don’t have a food allergy, if someone prepares your food wearing latex gloves, you could still have an allergic reaction from the latex. Some foods contain proteins like latex and can also trigger an allergic reaction even if latex doesn’t touch them. These foods are chestnuts, avocados, and bananas.

The following foods may also contain the latex protein but are less likely to lead to an allergic reaction:

  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Potatoes
  • Figs
  • Papayas
  • Tomatoes
  • Melons
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Kiwis

How Do You Know If You Have a Latex Allergy?

Given the prevalence of rubber latex in so many everyday products, it can be hard to pinpoint whether it’s a latex allergy or something else that’s led to your discomfort.

Now that you’re more aware of which products contain latex, if you’re ever around those products and you have an allergic reaction, then it’s likely you have a latex allergy. Even still, the best way to confirm such an allergy is to see an allergist for a diagnosis.

Your allergist may perform a blood test, to check the presence of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) to latex. The allergist will prick your skin once to gauge the number of antibodies in the blood. Remember, with any allergy, your immune system recognizes the allergen as a threat. To react, the immune system begins making antibodies known as or IgE. The IgE is what leads to your allergy symptoms.

Latex Allergy Symptoms

Another way to gauge whether you have a latex allergy is to look at your symptoms. Given that you typically wear or touch latex rather than ingest it, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or ACAAI notes that many symptoms of this allergy affect the skin. You might develop itchy skin as well as hives. These symptoms may be accompanied by a runny nose.

For others, a latex allergy causes symptoms more reminiscent of asthma, among them breathing troubles, a tight feeling in the chest, and wheezing. These symptoms may manifest if the latex is airborne. That can happen with latex gloves, as an example.

The cornstarch powder that goes into the production of latex gloves can also contain latex proteins that cause an allergic reaction. If the cornstarch gets into the air, you can breathe in it. In some doctor’s and dentist’s offices, low-protein latex gloves or non-latex gloves have become more common for this very reason.

These symptoms are from a Type I latex allergy, or an IgE-mediated latex allergy

Allergic contact dermatitis may also follow after latex exposure, which is referred to as cell-mediated contact dermatitis or type IV latex allergy. The ACAAI says this dermatitis occurs most often when wearing rubber gloves due to the chemicals included in production. You won’t have symptoms immediately, sometimes as little as 24 hours after using the gloves, and in other cases, as long as 72 hours later.

You may develop blisters and eczema through allergic contact dermatitis from rubber gloves. These skin irritations will appear where the gloves were, typically on the back of your hands.

What Happens If You Have a Latex Allergy – Latex Allergy Treatment

Latex allergies, like many other allergies, are currently incurable. By working with your allergist after a positive diagnosis of a latex allergy, they can create an allergy management plan.

Here’s what your latex allergy management plan might include:

Avoidance

If you have especially bad latex allergies, then avoiding sources of latex is your best means of combatting an allergic reaction. This is sometimes easier said than done given the prevalence of natural rubber latex in everyday products, but it’s something you must strive to do, nonetheless.

We recommend you have an in-depth conversation with your allergist about your day-to-day life and where you might come into contact with natural rubber latex. Remember also that food with the same proteins can cause an allergic reaction, so part of your avoidance might mean modifying your diet.

Medication

If your latex allergy is considered mild, your doctor might suggest a prescription antihistamine in addition to the above avoidance measures. Antihistamines will prevent the production of histamines, which can lessen your latex allergy symptoms.

For more severe cases of latex allergies, an antihistamine likely won’t be enough to deliver relief from your symptoms. Avoidance will be your best bet, and your allergist will probably prescribe you adrenaline or epinephrine to carry on your person as well. You should use your epinephrine shot if you have a serious allergic reaction.

Use of an Allergy Bracelet

Your allergist might also suggest you wear an allergy bracelet indicating that you have a latex allergy. If you were ever rendered unconscious or unable to respond because of your latex allergy, the medical bracelet would tell those around you what your allergy is. Someone could then contact emergency services to get you the help you need promptly.

If you’re in anaphylactic shock, which can happen if your latex allergy is serious, then you need assistance immediately to save your life. You don’t want to leave the house without your allergy bracelet then.

Concessions When Seeing Medical Professionals

You can’t forego medical treatment even if you have a latex allergy, but how do you safely navigate appointments with your dentist or primary care physician? Your allergist can also help you come up with a medical care safety plan you can use going forward.

Your allergist will likely recommend you contact your physician or dentist and tell them about your allergy. You might request that these medical professionals switch to latex-free gloves, using something like synthetic gloves instead. Keep in mind also that aerosols that contain latex can lead to an allergic reaction, so the use of these aerosols should be discontinued when you’re around.

What to Do If You Have a Latex Allergy 

Lifestyle changes on your behalf are also necessary to safeguard yourself from latex. Whether you’re at home or going out to eat, here are some precautions you can take to avoid an allergic reaction.

At Home

We recommend going through your everyday household products and determining which may contain latex. If you’re concerned about an allergic reaction in doing this, then ask a friend or family member to take care of it for you.

As mentioned, computer buttons, tools, pacifiers, carpet backing, and toys may all contain natural rubber latex. You’ll have to stop using these items and buy latex-free alternatives.

Next, go through your wardrobe. Some clothing may have latex in them, including elasticized underwear and even raincoats. The soles of your shoes could contain latex as well since most soles are rubber. If these garments are still in good shape, you might donate them to someone in need, but don’t wear them again.

If the rest of your family wants to continue using latex-containing clothes, then keep your clothes and shoes in a closet separate from everyone else’s. You’ll also have to wash and dry your clothes on their own.

Finally, dig through your medicine cabinet. Bandages and some dressings contain latex, as can sexual protection like diaphragms and condoms. Throw or give away unused latex bandages and replace them with non-latex options like cloth. You should also schedule an appointment with your gynecologist to discuss rubber-free contraceptive options.

When Out

If you’re dining out with your friends or family, you want to ascertain that your food is not prepared with rubber gloves or by anyone who was wearing rubber gloves. The proteins can then be imparted to your meal and lead to an allergic reaction.

You might also want to rethink the foods you eat when going to a restaurant. We’d suggest staying away from chestnuts, avocados, and bananas to be on the safe side. That behavior may continue at home as well, but that’s your choice.

As for the rest of the foods we listed before that may cause an allergic reaction due to similar latex proteins, it’s not a bad idea to steer clear of those foods too when dining out.

If you’re looking for latex allergy Charlotte care, trust in our team at Charlotte Asthma & Allergy Center. We’re specialists in allergies of all kinds, including rarer allergies like those to latex. Through our assistance, we can diagnose and provide a personalized treatment plan for your latex allergy.

You can reach us by phone at 704-372-7900 to schedule an appointment.

 

Latex Allergy FAQs

How Common Are Latex Allergies?

Compared to most allergies, latex allergies are rarer, with under one percent of the United States population having this allergy. It’s more common in healthcare workers, where the rate of latex allergies increases to eight to 17 percent, says the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America or AAFA. These people regularly wear latex gloves, which could cause contact dermatitis and later, a full-blown allergy.

Can You Outgrow a Latex Allergy?

It’s unclear if you can outgrow latex allergies. Since latex allergies don’t appear in patients of a certain age like some food allergies tend to manifest more in children, there’d be no timeframe for which you could outgrow a latex allergy. That’s provided that outgrowing the allergy is even possible. Since latex allergies might be with you for life and they’re incurable, you really want to do all you can at home, work, and when out to avoid latex. Continue to see your allergist as well to manage your symptoms.

How Can You Tell if You’re Allergic to Latex?

The symptoms of a latex allergy can make such an allergy apparent. Latex allergy symptoms can affect the skin, such as through contact dermatitis, as well as the respiratory system. The smartest way to ascertain whether you’re allergic to latex is always by seeing an allergist and getting tested. If it somehow turns out that you don’t have a latex allergy, your allergist can perform further tests to rule out other allergens until they find the one that makes you symptomatic.

How Long Do Latex Allergic Reactions Last?

If you’re having an allergic reaction to latex such as from rubber gloves, it can be between one and three days before symptoms even appear. The rash from contact dermatitis can persist for days and even weeks in some instances. If your rash and blisters won’t go away, it’s probably because you’re continuously exposing yourself to latex. Take a few days away from rubber gloves or other sources of latex and your rash should calm down.

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