Latex is a milky fluid that comes from rubber trees. It can be found in many everyday items, including balloons, rubber bands, condoms, erasers, toys pacifiers, baby bottle nipples, rubber gloves and medical and dental equipment.
The more exposure you have to latex, the more likely it is that you'll develop an allergy. If you've had many surgeries or work in health care you're more at risk, as you are if you're allergic to bananas, kiwi, passion fruit, chestnuts, tomatoes or avocadoes. This is probably because the fruit proteins are similar to the proteins in rubber.
You may have an allergy if you develop any of the following symptoms after coming into contact with latex:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
If you suspect you have a latex allergy, go see an allergist or immunologist and get tested. Your doctor will probably do an immunoglobulin E (IgE) test, a blood test that checks for antibodies (proteins created by your immune system to fight off allergens). This test can detect latex-specific igE.
Allergies are sometimes diagnosed with a skin prick test (SPT). Your doctor will apply a drop of diluted latex or latex protein to a small scratch on your arm or back. The spot will become red and raised if you are allergic.
SPTs are not often done to test for latex allergies for several reasons. First, there is not yet an FDA-approved standard latex extract for use in the test. Latex is complex, containing over a dozen proteins, and doctors don't yet know which protein causes allergies. Additionally, an SPT can cause a severe allergic reaction, so an allergist who performs one must be very experienced and prepared with emergency equipment just in case.
Whatever you do, don't try to test yourself for a latex allergy by putting on latex gloves, blowing up a balloon or otherwise exposing yourself to latex. If you are indeed allergic, this can be very dangerous or even fatal.