Immune system response to latex can be mild or life-threatening
This type of allergy is an immune system response to proteins found in latex, which is a milky fluid that comes from the Brazilian rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). When an allergic person comes into contact with latex, commonly by way of rubber gloves, a rubber ball, rubber band, condom or diaphragm, or some other rubber material, the body’s immune system overreacts. Symptoms may begin right away or develop over the course of a few days.
There are three types of latex allergy with different variations in severity:
- Irritant dermatitis – This is the least dangerous of latex allergies but symptoms of dryness, itching, burning, scaling and other skin problems can be painful and bothersome.
- Allergic contact dermatitis – This form of allergy has similar symptoms but is more severe than irritant dermatitis. The allergic reaction may spread to other parts of the body and may not show up until days after initial contact with latex.
- Latex hypersensitivity – This is the most severe type of allergic reaction to latex. Symptoms begin almost immediately and may include cramps, hives, pink eye and itching. In extreme cases, an allergic person may experience chest pain and difficulty breathing, and may go into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition requiring emergency medical attention.
Some people who are allergic to latex have a cross-reactive food allergy, an immune response to certain proteins in certain foods, similar to latex response. The most common latex-reactive foods are banana, avocado, kiwi and chestnut.
If you think you might have a latex allergy, it is important to see a doctor and get tested. Depending on the severity of your allergy, you may need to have a latex emergency plan prepared. Your doctor can also help you find ways to avoid latex and use latex-alternative products as needed.