What do you know about latex allergy? If you or someone you care about is allergic to latex, the number of products made using this common manufacturing ingredient may surprise you. The proteins in natural rubber latex are also similar to those in a number of different foods, which can cause food allergies. We’ve put together a list of 19 things to be aware of when it comes to latex allergies and staying safe.
#1 – Latex allergies are more common in healthcare workers
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health in 2016 found that, worldwide, approximately 4% of the population has an allergy to latex. However, it is most common in healthcare workers, who frequently come into contact with latex gloves and other medical equipment containing latex. People with some medical conditions like spina bifida are also more susceptible to latex allergy.
The prevalence rates found in the study were:
- healthcare workers – 9.7%
- susceptible patients – 7.2%
- general population – 4.3%
Amongst people who don’t work in healthcare, people who have had a lot of exposure to latex from repeated hospital admissions or medical procedures are more likely to develop a latex allergy. ASCIA notes on its website that people who develop a latex allergy often have existing allergies, asthma or eczema1.
#2 – Latex and rubber labelling can be confusing
The type of rubber associated with allergies is natural rubber latex. Natural rubber latex is made using the white sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. The type of latex used in manufacturing moulded and extruded latex products is made by processing this sap with various chemicals.
Natural rubber latex shouldn’t be confused with synthetic rubber, sometimes also confusingly referred to as “latex”. Made from petrochemicals, synthetic rubber doesn’t contain the proteins that cause allergic reactions. Latex paint is an example of a synthetic latex product that does not contain any natural rubber latex.
#3 – There are different types of reactions to latex
The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America describes 3 types of reactions to natural rubber latex2:
- Type 1 – IgE-mediated allergy. This type of allergic reaction happens quickly as a result of the response by your immune system to latex exposure and can be severe;
- Type IV – allergic contact dermatitis, which causes skin inflammation. While this is an allergic reaction, it is not life threatening; and
- Irritant dermatitis. This is the most common type of reaction to latex. It causes a red itchy skin rash from contact with the skin, but it is not actually an allergy.
#4 – Latex allergy can be life threatening
People who have a latex allergy can experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Reactions can occur from contact with latex or from breathing in particles in the air.
Mild to moderate symptoms include:
- itchy skin or hives (from contact);
- swollen lips, face or tongue (for example from blowing up latex balloons);
- hayfever of asthma like symptoms (from inhaling latex particles)
Severe or life threatening symptoms including difficulty breathing and a drop in blood pressure (anaphylaxis) can occur in people with severe latex allergy.
It is important to understand that although many products contain latex , more serious reactions are usually associated with exposure to latex through mucous membranes or internally. This is why extra care needs to be taken during medical and dental procedures and when using contraceptives, as we’ll talk about more below.1
#5 – You can have allergy testing to diagnose a latex allergy
An allergist is the best person to diagnose a latex allergy through tests. They will consider your history of reactions, symptoms and use allergy testing such as IgE blood tests and skin prick testing.
If you have allergic contact dermatitis, patch testing on the skin can confirm or rule out if latex is the cause.
To read more about different types of allergy testing, and unproven tests to avoid, see our post: All about genuine allergy testing – the tests specialists use.
#6 – People with latex allergy may have related food allergies
Some foods contain similar proteins to those found in natural rubber latex. These proteins can cause an itchy mouth or throat swelling in some people with latex allergy. According to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology & Allergy, the foods which may affect people with latex allergy include:
- strawberry; and
Not everyone who is allergic to latex will have reactions to these foods, so there is no need to avoid them unless you experience problems.1
#7- Food preparation with latex gloves can be a problem
You’ve probably seen people at your local take-away/takeout store or cafe preparing food with gloves on. Did you know that if the person preparing your food is wearing latex gloves, this can cause latex contamination in your food? Make sure to ask that the person preparing your food doesn’t use latex gloves. Vinyl gloves are a food safe option.
#8 – Hospital and medical settings use lots of latex products
If you have a latex allergy you must disclose this when visiting a doctor, dentist, having a procedure in hospital or other healthcare settings. Even when you go to have a blood test.
The obvious latex item used by doctors, dentists, nurses and those assisting them in medical settings are latex gloves. Some latex gloves use powder (made with corn starch) to stop them sticking together. This powder can absorb latex proteins from the gloves and cause allergic reactions when the powder circulates in the air. It is really important that both healthcare workers with latex allergies and the allergic patients they treat are not exposed to latex gloves. Non-latex gloves such as powder free nitrile gloves are widely available .
As well as gloves, a host of other medical and dental equipment is made from latex, including:
- sticky electrode pads used for heart monitoring;
- blood pressure cuffs;
- some stethoscopes;
- intravenous tubes;
- surgical masks and more.
We have first hand experience of a reaction to surgical tape used in the operating theatre (fortunately only contact dermatitis, but still unpleasant).
According to the Asthma & Allergy Network, people with latex allergy need to be aware that there is a small risk associated with some vaccines (where the vaccine vial is sealed with latex). This only applies to some limited types of vaccines, and there are a number of steps your health practitioner can take to minimise any risk from a latex seal. Again, be sure to disclose your latex allergy when having any vaccinations. You may need to stay longer than usual for monitoring after your vaccination2.
#9 – Check for latex free adhesive bandages and sticking plasters
Contact reactions to adhesive bandages and tapes are common. More often than not this is a form of irritant contact dermatitis to the adhesive, rather than a true allergy. This will still cause an itchy rash and people who react this way will need to to use adhesive bandages that are suitable for sensitive skin.
However, if you have a true latex allergy you will need to use latex free options. Elastoplast announced in 2021 that the majority of its products will be latex free (including the packaging). We use Elastoplast sensitive plasters which are latex free. Products that are latex free usually state this on the packaging, but if in doubt, ask the manufacturer.
You can read more in our post on How to manage allergy to adhesive bandages and tapes.
#10 – Some personal care and beauty products contain latex
Feminine hygiene products like sanitary pads and tampons may contain latex. If you have latex allergy, check with the manufacturer. Some manufacturers like Procter & Gamble publish a statement on their website that their feminine hygiene products are latex free. If you use a menstrual cup, this must be latex free. Most popular brands like DivaCup are made with medical grade silicone which is safe to use.
Other beauty products including those containing glue or adhesive can contain latex. Be sure to use latex free beauty and makeup sponges , latex free eyelash glues and check makeup and beauty product ingredients for latex before you use them.
Even rubber handles – like on your toothbrush – may be made of latex.
#11 – Be careful of latex contraceptives
Condoms and diaphragms containing latex can cause serious reactions in people with latex allergies. Fortunately latex free options are widely available. Skyn is a leading brand of latex free condoms available internationally.
#12 – You should avoid latex mattresses and pillows
In recent years latex mattresses, mattress toppers and pillows have become increasingly popular. Are these products a concern for people with latex allergies? Bedding companies that sell latex products point out that the latex used in mattress is usually heavily treated. They will often say that if you only experience mild allergies on contact with latex that you will be fine to sleep on a latex mattress, provide you take care not to touch the exposed latex inside the cover. However, if you have a immediate immune reaction to latex allergy, you should avoid latex bedding. This includes rubber backed mattress and pillow protectors that contain latex, as waterproof ones often do.
Airbeds and inflatable mattresses often contain latex too. For a latex free option look for inflatable and camping mattresses made from synthetic products like this nylon sleeping pad (a similar product is available in Australia from Hikenture).
#13 – Latex balloons can cause allergic reactions
Most balloons are made with latex. While this might seem easier to avoid that some other sources of latex, it isn’t always. A severe reaction to latex balloons made news headlines a few years ago after a major concert in Australia where there was a release of balloons into the crowd. Although decreasing in popularity due to environmental concerns, balloon releases can happen at parties, wedding and large public events. It’s a good idea to check with organisers before you attend these events to ensure that you won’t be at risk of a reaction.
For smaller gatherings, like parties in your own home or where you know someone with a latex allergy is attending, it’s best to skip the balloons and have latex free decorations. Or opt for some of the amazing decorative mylar or foil balloons for sale instead.
You’ll also need to skip the water balloons, as these are also made of latex.
#14 – Check sport and fitness equipment for latex
Sports strapping tapes – which are usually quite strongly adhesive – often contain latex. If you need to use sports tape for strapping an injured joint or for protection, make sure to use a latex free pre-wrap, latex free cushioning and latex free sports tape. In Australia, Strapit brand makes hypoallergenic latex free sports tapes.
Many resistance bands are made of latex, especially many of the cheaper rubber type bands. Theraband makes latex free bands in varying strengths (but also makes latex bands, so check the description carefully).
Even your gym’s rubberised floor may contain latex.
Other unexpected places to find latex include:
- the padded handles on of sports equipment like tennis, badminton and squash racquets, golf clubs, table tennis paddles and hockey sticks;
- swim goggles (Speedo googles are latex free); and
- rubber balls (or the rubber bladders inside things like tennis balls.
Most popular smart watches and fitness trackers have latex free silicone bands. Apple, Garmin and Fitbit all state this on their websites. However, if you buy cheaper rubber replacement bands online you should check with the seller first to ensure that the rubber used is latex free.
#15 – Baby products may contain latex
Teats for baby bottles and dummies/pacifiers/soothers often contain latex. Many of these products contain warning labels for natural rubber latex (for example, Tommee Tippee natural latex cherry soothers). If you or your child are allergic to latex, you’ll need to look for latex free alternatives like these silicone soothers by Philips Avent. For baby bottle teats, popular brands like Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature and Philips Avent bottles have silicone teats.
In the past some disposable nappies/diapers contained latex. Fortunately most modern disposable nappies no longer do and use synthetic products like spandex instead. You can read more about the materials used to make disposables nappies in this article in Clinical Paediatrics. Many eco-friendly nappy/diaper brands now specifically state that they are latex free.
If you use modern reusable cloth nappies – especially handmade ones – there is a chance that the elastic used may contain latex. Be sure to check with the maker of your cloth nappies.
#16 – Latex is used in some toys
Watch out for latex in rubberised toys. While most modern toys do not use latex, older toys that your children inherit may. Older Barbie dolls for example contained latex.
As mentioned above, rubber balls or balls with rubber bladders may contain latex. Craft supplies like glues and erasers are also sources of exposure to latex.
#17 – Latex can hide in clothing elastic
There may be latex the elastic used in waist bands or cuffs of clothing. This can cause reactions where the elastic is in direct contact with the skin.
Also watch out for the elastic in underwear, bras and socks. If you are looking for allergy-friendly latex free women’s underwear, JulieMay is accredited by AllergyUK as friendly for people with allergies to synthetic fibres. Their bras don’t have elastic straps and use natural fibres like cotton and silk. JulieMay ships worldwide too.
Raincoats and rubber boots/rain boots/wellingtons are another source of latex to be aware of. However crepe latex rubber used for shoe soles are unlikely to cause allergic reactions.1
#18 – Office and school supplies can contain latex
School and office stationery supplies have a surprising amount of rubber latex. Potential sources of latex include:
- rubber bands;
- rubber pencil tops;
- self adhesive envelopes;
- postage stamps;
- mousepads (with latex in the non-slip cushioned backing – Innovera make a latex free mouse pad).
#19 – You should use emergency medical alerts for latex allergy
If you have a serious latex allergy, there are some important steps you can take to help keep you safe in the event of an emergency. Ways to let first responders know you are allergic to latex include:
- wearing a medial alert ID – There are now a huge variety of options beyond the traditional metal bracelet. Mediband make a silicone allergy band (which is obviously latex free!) You can see more of our favourites (with a discount code) in our post about the latest allergy medical alert IDs.
- updating your medical and emergency information on your mobile phone to include your latex allergy and your emergency contacts: see How to share emergency allergy medical ID on your phone.
If you have been diagnosed with a severe latex allergy and prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Anapen), always carry two with you. You may also want to consider carrying your own latex free gloves as part of your emergency kit.
And if you are travelling with a latex allergy, check out the latex allergy cards from Equal Eats, with translations available in a huge range of different languages. (You can get 10% off with code ALLERGYSPOT). For more tips about safe travel with a latex allergy, see our post about safe travel with allergies.
References and more information about latex allergy
If you suspect that you may have a latex allergy, contact your doctor and ask for a referral to allergist for testing. And if you have any concerns about the types of latex products you need to avoid, you should discuss this with your allergist or health care provider, who knows about your individual circumstances.
You can find more general information about latex allergy from peak allergy bodies including the following resources we’ve referred to in this article:
- 1Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy fact sheet, “Latex Allergy”
- 2Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, “Latex Allergy”
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology fact sheet, “Latex Allergy”
*Disclaimer: Allergy Spot does not provide medical advice. You should always consult a suitably qualified medical practitioner in respect of your own medical conditions, symptoms or concerns. See our Website Terms for more details.