Latex Allergy Symptoms: Skin, Mouth, Chest Reactions
A latex allergy can develop in people exposed to it, especially those exposed regularly. It can be mild or severe.
Latex is made from the soft, white layer of sap beneath the bark of the rubber tree. Because it's so pliable, it is used in disposable gloves, other medical equipment, condoms, and many other applications.
Symptoms can appear wherever latex touches the skin or cause breathing problems. Common symptoms of a latex allergy include:
This article will take a closer look at latex allergy symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
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The symptoms of an allergy to latex can appear quickly after direct contact with the skin. This can be due to an allergy to latex protein, called immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated contact urticaria. The skin may start to itch, develop bumps or hives, become red, and swell. Your eyes may become watery and itchy.
Or, a reaction may develop later if you react to thiuram, a chemical used in manufacturing latex products. This is called delayed-type hypersensitivity contact dermatitis. It develops 12 to 48 hours after contact. You may see a red, itchy rash or blisters in the area of skin that touched the product.
Children, as well as adults, can be allergic to latex. If you see any of these signs of an allergic reaction in yourself or people of any age after they have been in contact with latex, talk to a healthcare provider.
Respiratory symptoms can occur from inhaling powder dust from a latex glove because the dust can contain protein particles found in latex. Respiratory symptoms from a latex allergy include wheezing, a feeling of tightness in the chest, or even trouble breathing.
It is rare but possible for an allergic reaction to latex to be very serious, causing low blood pressure and shock. This is called anaphylaxis. If you see someone who is having trouble breathing and seems faint after exposure to latex, get emergency treatment. Anaphylaxis can be fatal.
People who have severe latex allergies should carry an injectable form of the medication epinephrine, which can open the airways. If you know someone who has a severe latex allergy, make sure you know how to use the epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen), which can be life-saving.
The symptoms of anaphylaxis come on very quickly and are dangerous. They include swelling of the tongue and throat and rapid and difficult breathing. People may wheeze, feel faint and dizzy, or pass out. Their skin can be cold to the touch, or they may slur their speech. They may have difficulty swallowing.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Call 911 or go to an emergency room (ER) immediately.
Some latex allergy skin symptoms develop right away, but others may take a while and not appear until a day or two after exposure. These delayed reactions are called contact dermatitis, which is a skin inflammation that leads to an itchy, red rash, a burning sensation, and dry, cracked skin.
This is different from latex allergies that occur immediately, which are an allergy to latex particles that cause an immune system reaction. Contact dermatitis from latex is usually due to chemicals used in latex processing rather than the latex itself. This kind of latex allergy does not typically cause serious symptoms such as anaphylaxis.
You can sometimes treat latex allergies yourself. You can try an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine if the symptoms are mild, like sneezing or itching. For skin rashes, you can try an OTC cortisone cream or calamine lotion to ease itching.
If you or someone you are with has been diagnosed with a severe latex allergy, know how to prevent shock. Call 911 and then inject their epinephrine medication, if available, help them lie down with their feet slightly raised if comfortable and if a head or neck injury is not suspected, and cover them with a blanket or coat.
Many items in a hospital can contain latex. If you know you are allergic to latex, notify the hospital in advance of any planned procedures. If you develop anaphylaxis from latex and are taken to a hospital on an emergency basis, healthcare providers can administer epinephrine and fluids.
If you have an allergy to latex, the best course of action is not to use products that contain latex and to ask others not to use them near you. Be aware of products that may contain latex and find alternatives.
Ask medical and dental personnel to wear non-latex gloves. Latex is very common in many environments, so knowing where it might be present and avoiding it is important in reducing risk.
Latex is used in the manufacturing of a wide variety of products. Any item that is stretchy may contain latex. Some common items that often contain latex include:
Some foods may cause a cross-reaction if they contain components that are similar in makeup to the proteins that form latex. They can cause allergic reaction symptoms similar to those of a latex allergy. These foods include avocado, banana, chestnut, kiwifruit, and tomato. Other foods can also cause this reaction.
Latex allergies can cause symptoms affecting your respiratory tract or skin. Respiratory reactions include wheezing, a stuffy nose, or even difficulty breathing. In rare cases, it can cause anaphylaxis, which is a systemic reaction to latex and can be a medical emergency.
Symptoms of a latex allergy that affects the skin are itching, rashes, redness, and swelling. It may be immediate or delayed. If you notice that you react to latex, check the labels of products so you can avoid it, and ask healthcare and dental workers to use non-latex materials, including gloves.
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Latex allergy.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Latex allergy.
Navalpakam A, Thanaputkaiporn N, Poowuttikul P. Management of anaphylaxis. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2022;42(1):65-76. doi:10.1016/j.iac.2021.09.005.
New York State Department of Health. Latex allergy information.
By Nancy LeBrunIn addition to her extensive health and wellness writing, Nancy has written about many general interest topics for publications as diverse as Newsweek, Teen Vogue, abcnews.com, and Craftsmanship Quarterly. She has authored a book about documentary filmmaking, a screenplay about a lost civil rights hero, and ghostwritten several memoirs.