What is a latex allergy?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors

If you have a latex allergy, your body is not actually reacting to latex (the milky fluid that comes from rubber trees) but to a contaminating protein found in the rubber. When you have an allergy, your immune system identifies something as harmful to your body and reacts with various symptoms. Symptoms of a latex allergy may include reactions of the skin (flushing, swelling, itching or hives), eyes and nose (itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing), lungs and throat (wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath), ears (dizziness, lightheadedness) or stomach lining (nausea). The only allergy symptom that is life threatening is anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention. 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 and lead respiratory symptoms.

You will need to be diagnosed with a latex allergy by an allergist or immunologist, who may prescribe you an antihistamine for mild allergy symptoms. If your allergy is severe, you may need to keep epinephrine with you so you can treat yourself if you come into contact with latex. It would also be a good idea to tell your family and employer about your allergy and notify your healthcare provider so that if you should ever need surgery, latex-free equipment will be used. You should also wear a medic alert bracelet to warn people about your allergy.


Avoid contact with latex and try to stay away from any place where powdered latex gloves are used if the powder makes it difficult for you to breathe. If you need to wear gloves, you can use synthetic latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves. Other products that commonly contain latex include medical and dental equipment, balloons, rubber bands, condoms, erasers and toys.