What is a latex allergy?
Natural rubber latex is a milky fluid found in rubber trees. There is a protein in the fluid that can cause allergic reactions in some people. Some gloves, balloons, rubber bands, erasers, toys and condoms are made using this natural rubber latex.
Reactions to latex products occur when they come into contact with the person's skin, mucous membranes (like the nostrils, mouth or rectum), or the bloodstream (e.g. during surgery). For example, some people may react when blowing up a rubber balloon or breathing in powder from the inside of latex gloves.
Who's at risk of developing a latex allergy?
People who have frequent exposure to latex from medical procedures are at greater risk for developing latex allergy. They include:
- Children with spina bifida
- Children born with defects of the urinary system
- Children or adults who have had many surgeries
People who have allergies to certain foods may also have latex allergies. Foods shown to have a connection with latex allergies include: bananas, avocados, chestnuts, kiwi, passion fruit, papaya, figs, peaches, nectarines, plums, tomatoes and celery.
Symptoms of a latex allergy
Symptoms of latex allergy include:
Itchy or watery eyes
Wheezing or whistling sound with breathing
Hives or raised, itchy bumps on the skin
In some cases, severe reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, can occur and cause:
Swelling of the throat or tongue
Severe reactions require prompt emergency treatment.
Diagnosing a latex allergy
The Allergy Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia provides comprehensive evaluation and treatment for children with allergic diseases and asthma. Our program is one of the largest pediatric allergy groups in the region, caring for children from the Philadelphia region and around the world. The Allergy Program is a designated Center of Excellence by the World Allergy Organization.
Our Allergy Program diagnoses children with latex allergies with a through medical and family history, as well as skin testing and/or blood work. Our team will work with your child's pediatrician to ensure optimal outcomes for your child.
What to avoid if your child has a latex allergy
Many items are made from latex. These include:
Surgical and exam gloves
IV tubing injection sites
Blood pressure cuffs
... and many more items
There are items that can be used in place of the items that contain latex. They are made from vinyl, plastic, or silicone.
If you are allergic to latex:
- Try to avoid all latex products. Use items that do not have latex in them.
- If you need surgery or a procedure, talk to your doctor about what you can do to prevent exposure and reactions to latex.
- Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace with information about your allergy.
- Carry a pair of non-latex gloves with you, information about latex allergies, and/or a note from your doctor.
- Be sure medical and school records have a latex allergy alert.
- For a child with a latex allergy, teach him or her to know and avoid latex products.
- Ask your healthcare provider about self-injecting epinephrine (or Epi-pens). Have them at home, in the car, at school, day care, and work.
- Know what to do in case of an emergency. Discuss this with your child's doctor and your child's school nurse.