Latex is a protective natural rubber made from sap of the Brazilian rubber tree (Hevea brasilensis). It is a cloudy white liquid, similar in appearance to cows’ milk (milky fluid). A latex allergy is a reaction to a protein in this sap. Since 1990, latex allergies have become a serious health care problem. The prevalence of latex sensitization in the general population ranges between 5-10%.
Latex may produce different kinds of allergic conditions:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: it is a kind of contact eczema commonly produced by rubber gloves, shoes, sports equipment and medical devices; it appears 1 or 2 days after contact with rubber. It is caused by other products added to the rubber rather than the latex itself. This is diagnosed by patch tests.
  • Immediate allergy: this kind of allergy is due to IgE antibodies against latex. It may induce contact urticaria (the most common early manifestation in latex-sensitive patients), rhinitis and asthma (produced by inhalation of latex allergen particles) or even anaphylaxis (symptoms include difficulty breathing, dizziness, wheezing, nausea, vomiting, rapid or weak pulse and/or loss of consciousness).

Diagnosis of immediate latex allergy is based on a history of exacerbation of cutaneous or systemic signs and symptoms after exposure to natural rubber products, with evidende of latex sensitization by skin prick test and measurement of latex-specific IgE antibodies in blood. Challenge studies by nasal and bronchial inhalation orthe “use test” (in which the fingers of rubber gloves are applied to the wet fingers of persons with suspected allergy) may be necessary.
Because some rubber proteins are similar to food proteins, some foods may also cause an allergic reaction in patients allergic to latex (latex-fruit syndrome). The most common foods are bananas, kiwi, avocados, papayas, chestnuts, potatoes and tomatoes. It is recommended that patients avoid only foods that have already given them an allergic reaction, but a careful assessment by a physician may be required.

People at greatest risk
People with spina bifida or multiple surgeries
Health care workers and housekeeping staff
Child care providers
Food service workers
Rubber industry workers
People with food allergies who may have cross reactions (as mentioned a above)

Management involves education concerning cross-reacting allergens and minimization of contact with rubber products. Hospitals and clinics establish protocols to minimize latex allergen exposures because latex avoidance reduces natural rubber latex aeroallergens and latex sensitization. The vinyl and nitrile gloves are suitable alternatives for people allergic to latex.
Subcutaneous and sublingual immunotherapy with natural rubber latex has also been effective in reducing symptoms in latex-allergic patients, but it is not currently available in all countries.

Products that may contain latex

Medical devices  Gloves, blood pressure cuffs, IV tubes, catheters, tourniquets, equipment for resuscitation
Dental items  Dams, orthodontic rubber bands
Clothing  Elastic waistbands in pants and underwear
Children’s items  Pacifiers, baby-bottle nipples, balloons, teething toys
Household items  Rugs, bathmats, rubber glovers
Personal care items  Diaphragms, condoms
Office and school supplies  Rubber bands, erasers, rubber cement, paint

 If you are allergic to latex:

  • Avoid contact with latex products
  • Ask your doctor if you should carry an emergency adrenaline kit.
  • Wear a personal ID bracelet, necklace or keychain with information about your allergy.
  • Before any dental or medical procedures, tell your doctor about your allergy.
  • If your child has a latex allergy, you should also tell school officials.