An allergy is a reaction by your immune system to something it deems dangerous to your body. In the case of a latex allergy, what induces the reaction is actually a contaminating protein found in latex (the milky fluid that comes from rubber trees) rather than the latex itself. Latex is commonly found in rubber gloves and other medical and dental equipment, as well as balloons, rubber bands, condoms, rubber erasers and toys.
Symptoms of a latex allergy run the gamut from annoying rashes to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include reactions of the eyes and nose (itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing), lungs and throat (wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath), ears (dizziness, lightheadedness), stomach lining (nausea) or skin (flushing, swelling, itching or hives). If you develop a delayed-onset rash (12 to 48 hours) after wearing latex gloves, only in the area where the material touched your skin, this is most likely contact dermatitis from other chemicals used in the manufacturing process and not a reaction to the latex itself.
If latex becomes airborne (for example, if latex proteins attach themselves to the cornstarch powder in rubber gloves and the starch becomes airborne), it can cause symptoms in the nose or eyes, or it can be inhaled and cause respiratory symptoms. If you experience symptoms of anaphylaxis, which include nausea, vomiting, weak or rapid pulse, wheezing, difficulty breathing, confusion and loss of consciousness, you need immediate medical attention as this can be fatal.
An allergist or immunologist can test you for a latex allergy and may prescribe an antihistamine for your symptoms. If you have a severe allergy you may need to keep epinephrine with you so you can treat yourself immediately upon contact with latex.