Many people are allergic to a rubber material called latex [LAY-tex]. Latex is from the milky sap of rubber trees. Latex is all around us. We use latex to make rubber. It is in toys, clothing, rubber tires, rubber bands, rubber gloves, some plants (poinsettia, spurges, ficus trees, rubber plants), and many items used in the medical world. It’s important to always tell your doctor if you suffer from a latex allergy so that they don’t trigger a reaction during your care.
Latex contains proteins that cause allergies in some people. These people are often healthcare workers who use many latex items. Children who have lots of healthcare visits can also become allergic to latex. They, too, have contact with rubber during many procedures and care.
Latex allergies can’t be cured, but there won’t be any symptoms as long as you stay away from products that contain rubber.
If you have a latex allergy, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- Itchy or swollen lips after a dental visit
- Red skin or bumps after touching rubber
- Runny or itchy eyes after touching rubber
- Pain or a tight feeling in the chest
- Trouble breathing
- Hives or rash
- Scratchy throat
- Any of these signs after playing with balloons
The most serious form of latex allergy is called anaphylaxis [an-uh-fuh-LAK-sis]. This is the same as a serious reaction to a bee sting. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Having a hard time breathing
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- Sped up or slowed down pulse
If you notice any of these signs, call your healthcare provider right away. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and needs to be treated as soon as possible.
Latex allergy can be caused by lots of products that contain latex, including:
- Rubber bands
- Swimming goggles
- Hot water bottles
- Rubber toys
- Surgical masks
Most of these products are available in a latex-free version.
Some children may be more likely to become allergic to latex than others. These children tend to have one or more of the following:
- Multiple operations since birth
- Spina bifida
- Birth defects of the genito-urinary system
- Food allergies, especially to bananas, kiwis, tomatoes, peaches, and cherries
If your child has any of these, they should avoid items with rubber. This is true even if your child has never had any of the signs of allergy listed above. Staying away from rubber will help keep your child from becoming allergic.
You can have your children tested to see if they are allergic to latex. Talk to your healthcare provider if you would like to have this test.
Other kinds of tests that may help diagnose a latex allergy include:
- Blood tests. A small sample of your blood is sent to the lab to check for a latex allergy.
- Skin tests. A small piece of latex is put under the skin to see if a bump appears.
There is no cure for allergies. The best thing you can do is to stay away from latex items.
- Keep away from latex. For example, use Mylar balloons instead of latex balloons. Use vinyl or plastic gloves instead of rubber gloves. Provide your child with plastic or vinyl toys.
- Let all healthcare workers know about your child’s allergy. Be sure your child’s allergy is written in her medical chart. The hospital should use non-latex products with you or your child. For example, they should use plastic catheters and silk tape.
- Avoid using latex urinary catheters, red rubber catheters used for irrigations, and enema tubes.
- Talk with your doctor or nurse about a MEDICAL ALERT bracelet for yourself or, if you have a child with a latex allergy, your child.
- Talk with your doctor or nurse about emergency medicine that you can keep at home in case your child has an allergic reaction. Make sure the syringe to give these medications does not contain latex.