Latex allergy

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at April 30, 2016
StartDiseasesLatex allergy

A latex allergy is a rare allergic reaction that affects a small population of the United States. A latex allergy is usually a response by the immune system to either a protein in latex, or the latex itself. There are three types of latex allergies – two of which are non-life-threatening, and one that is.


Definition & Facts

Natural latex, usually referred to as rubber latex, is a tree-derived, natural rubber substance from the hevea brasiliensis from the Eurphorbiaceae family. Natural latex differs from synthetic latex, as artificial latex does not provoke the reaction that natural latex does; however, both are referred to synonymously as "latex."

Incidents of latex allergies span up to two-percent of the United States population. Latex allergies are more prominent in healthcare workers due to constant exposure to latex in gloves as well as exposure to latex powder after removing gloves. This exposes the healthcare worker through two routes of exposure: aerial and contact exposure.

Children born with spina bifida exhibit a much higher rate of latex allergies (between 20% - 67%). However, the rates of latex allergies have become increasingly lowered as synthetic rubbers take place of the original latex rubber.

Symptoms & Complaints

There are three types of latex allergies: type I, type IV, and irritant contact dermatitis with varying symptoms. Type I sensitivity, also known as IgE (immunoglobulin E antibody)-mediated latex allergy causes symptoms that normally occur within minutes of exposure and may require immediate medical attention as these types of reactions can be life threatening. Symptoms include:

Type IV allergic reactions are regularly referred to as allergic contact dermatitis. Symptoms can occur within a time range of a couple of hours to up to four days after exposure. Symptoms include:

Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) is the most commonly occurring irritation triggered by latex. The symptoms are similar to allergic contact dermatitis; ICD causes red, itchy rashes to break out in areas where latex has touched the skin.


The proteins in latex are what cause true latex allergies. When exposure to latex occurs, the body releases chemicals to attack what it perceives to be a harmful substance.

Repeated contact with the rubber can cause a sensitization to one's body, which can eventually lead to a reaction. Those in the healthcare field of study tend to be more at risk due to possible inhalation and skin contact with latex. Children who have undergone long surgeries or who routinely need medical treatments tend to have much greater sensitivity to latex as well.

Specific causes of allergy depend on type of reaction that has been provoked. Type I sensitivity is caused by an interaction between immunoglobulin and latex proteins. The interaction of the immunoglobin and the antigen causes an allergic reaction.

Type IV or allergic contact dermatitis involves a process where the body's immune system creates lymphokines to attack the chemicals mixed with the latex as opposed to the latex itself. Though non-life-threatening, spreading the allergic reaction to other parts of the body can occur when one touches other parts of his/her body.

Irritant contact dermatitis also develops in response to chemicals commonly mixed with latex, and can develop by means such as incomplete drying after washing hands, using a drying alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or irritation from the powder from inside a glove due to friction.

Diagnosis & Tests

There are two methods of diagnosing a person with a latex allergy, via skin allergy test or blood test. The blood test is usually the preferred method as there is no adverse reaction. The doctor extracts a sample of blood, and then the sample is tested for latex antibodies (these are the cells that counteract latex antigens causing allergic reactions). During this test, the doctor will make a prognosis of the patient's reactivity to latex based on the blood test, the patient's medical history, and the results of a physical examination.

A skin test is performed by means of a patch that sticks to the skin containing latex. The test is monitored very carefully as the test could render a type I reaction or an anaphylactic shock. If the patient exhibits anaphylaxis, then epinephrine, intravenous fluids, and emergency personnel are needed to support the patient.

Treatment & Therapy

In cases of irritant contact dermatitis, the patient can usually be administered a common antihistamine or corticosteroid medicines. More threatening allergic reactions need to be treated by epinephrine. Someone who has this type of allergy is urged to carry autoinjectors of epinephrine.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Prevention of contact with latex is possible and in some cases, such as type I, the need is absolutely critical, so the patient does not become debilitated by the reaction. There is a multitude of ways to make one's house latex-proof. Products that commonly contain latex include underwear, tub toys, rubber-grip equipped utensils, toothbrushes, pens or pencils, and disposable diapers.

Those who are allergic or have suspected allergies should be aware of products that are labeled "safe latex," as these products can cause latex allergies as well. There are also a number of foods that are classified as "latex reactive foods." It is important to be aware of these, as they can cause latex-fruit syndrome. A few foods are bananas, apples, carrots, celery, potatoes, tomatoes and others.