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Living with latex allergy: All you need to know

Living with latex allergy: All you need to know

In latex allergy, one develops an allergic reaction, that ranges from mild to severe after coming into contact with natural rubber latex-containing products

Understanding latex allergy

Sophie Martens, a 52-year-old San Francisco-based teacher was shocked after she developed a severe allergic reaction, breathlessness, rashes and itching, after sleeping on a mattress a few years ago. She later found out that the mattress had a latex core, which caused the reaction. Sophie was soon officially diagnosed with a latex allergy.

She says that although she had been suffering from mild symptoms for many years, she took note of them only after this episode.

“I am now reacting to latex in any form by just being in the same room as latex gloves or balloons for instance, and when I get exposed to latex, my skin turns red, my throat swells shut and my blood pressure drops [immediate airborne anaphylaxis]. So, it’s pretty scary,” Sophie tells Happiest Health.

What is latex allergy?

Latex is a light-coloured emulsion, a form of natural rubber which has high industrial usage. Everyday utilities such as rubber bands, gloves, condoms, kitchen utensils, protective layers for gym equipment, elastic linings in certain clothes, balloons, writing pens with a rubber grip and floor mats of cars made from rubber could contain latex. Using these can trigger latex allergy among those who are prone to it.

When someone with a latex allergy comes into contact with the proteins present in natural rubber latex, they could experience an allergic reaction, says Dr Vyakarnam Nageshwar, chief allergist and immunologist, Aswini Allergy Centre, Hyderabad.

“The protein part of the rubber elicits an antibody reaction on the surface of the body,” he adds.

Dr Suneela Nayak, a pediatric allergy specialist from Bengaluru says that mostly, symptoms of an allergy to latex show up upon contact. “One could experience local reactions depending on which part of your body comes into contact with latex,” she says, adding that the symptoms of a latex allergy can range from mild to severe.

Signs and symptoms of latex allergy

  • Itching
  • Rashes
  • Angioedema – swelling up of the soft tissues in one’s lips, throat
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Dizziness

In more severe cases, it can even cause an anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction that can turn fatal if emergency care is not provided, says Dr Nageshwar.

Dr Nageshwar says that swelling up of the face is the first sound of alarm for people with a latex allergy. “It means that the symptoms are progressing. Go to a critical care centre immediately,” he advises.

Who is at a higher risk of developing a latex allergy?

Dr Nayak says that people who tend to develop allergies – those who are medically referred to as ‘atopic’ – have a higher chance of developing an allergy to latex. “This includes people with conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis, eczema or other food allergies,” she says.

She adds that healthcare workers who are constantly exposed to latex gloves and other latex-containing products are also at risk of developing a latex allergy.

“Allergies are not something you’re born with. Healthcare workers who are regularly exposed to latex as part of their occupation may develop an allergy to latex later on in life,” she says.

Latex allergy management and treatment

Dr Nageshwar says that the only way to manage a latex allergy is by avoiding products that could trigger it.

Dr Nayak says, “Latex is present in a lot of hand gloves even today; there are gloves available which are latex-free. So, make sure to read the label in case you are allergic to latex.”

Dr Nageshwar recalls another case he handled recently – that of a 35-year-old woman who developed severe abdominal rashes after using a condom.

“Although being diagnosed with a latex allergy disrupted some plans of the couple, they understood that avoiding condoms made with latex is the only way to manage the condition,” he says.

Air-borne latex allergy, especially in hospitals areas where rubber gloves with powders are present in abundance can also occur, says Dr Nageshwar, adding that at the dentist’s office, dental correction procedures in which a lot of rubber bands are used can also trigger a latex allergy.

“Living with a latex allergy is both challenging and isolating,” Sophie tells Happiest Health.

Sophie says that after a few episodes of life-threatening allergic reactions, she decided to join support groups on Facebook, through which she learnt how to live her life safely – how to avoid exposure to latex products within the house, how to stay safe during a visit to the dentist and so on.

Sophie says she is currently practising a ‘strict avoidance of all things latex’ including rubber bands, erasers, certain adhesives, floor mats, kitchen utensils, shoes and clothes with elastic or spandex.

Sophie says she spends hours every day on the constant lookout for balloons, latex gloves and other dangerous materials.

“We must spend hours every week asking manufacturers what their products are made of and rarely get a straight answer because most things are made thousands of miles away using different kinds of rubber, like TPR, EVA, PVC and NRL. So, most manufacturers don’t really know what’s in the rubber parts of their product and cannot confirm that it’s latex-free. I’m still trying to find a pair of shoes that’s 100 per cent safe for me to wear, as NRL is usually added to the synthetic rubber that’s in the sole and the glue itself,” says Sophie.

Latex allergy and food allergies: What’s the link?

Dr Nageshwar says that people who are allergic to latex can exhibit all signs of an allergic reaction after consuming certain food items like bananas, papaya and okra.

“This is a type of immunological cross-reaction. At the molecular level, the protein content of these food items resembles the proteins found in latex. The body’s immune system wrongly assumes that the proteins in these food items are latex and this triggers an immune response,” he says.


When someone who has come into contact with a natural rubber latex product experiences symptoms of an allergy, including itching, rashes, redness and swelling, it could be a sign of a latex allergy.

It is the proteins present in natural rubber latex that induces an immune response.

People who are allergic to latex may also be allergic to food items like bananas, papaya and okra.

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