How do you know if you have a latex allergy?

An allergy is your immune system's reaction to something it deems harmful to your body. A latex allergy is actually a reaction to a contaminating protein found in latex, not to the actual milky fluid that comes from rubber trees.

You may have an allergy if you develop any of the following symptoms after coming into contact with latex (or spending time in a room where latex gloves were used, since the latex in gloves can become airborne).

  • flushing
  • swelling
  • itching
  • hives
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • anaphylaxis

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see an allergist or immunologist who can do an IgE antibody test or a skin-prick test to diagnose your latex allergy. (Skin testing is usually not done when testing for a latex allergy because it can cause a severe reaction.)

If you work in the health care or rubber industry you are at greater risk for a latex allergy because of your exposure to latex over time. Your risk is also higher if you've had many surgeries or have spina bifida (a birth defect affecting the spine).

If you're allergic to bananas, kiwi, passion fruit, chestnuts, tomatoes or avocado you also have a higher likelihood of being allergic to latex. Many people with a latex allergy are also allergic to these fruits. This may be because of the similarities between rubber proteins and the proteins in these foods.

If you do have a latex allergy, your doctor will probably prescribe an antihistamine for your symptoms. You may need to keep epinephrine with you so you can treat yourself if you come into contact with latex. You should also wear a medic alert bracelet and tell your family and employer about your allergy. If you work in the medical field, use vinyl, nitrile or synthetic latex gloves, and use non-latex equipment.