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Latex Gloves Allergy Guide - Causes, Symptoms & Prevention

allergic to latex gloves

Can you be allergic to latex gloves? Is it possible to prevent an allergic reaction to latex gloves completely? Your safety is our priority. Here is how you can avoid a trip to the emergency room and prevent a latex allergy from forming in the first place.

The purpose of this latex gloves allergy guide is to provide helpful information about what causes latex allergies, how to spot symptoms of a latex allergic reaction and prevent them from happening in the future. A better understanding of this type of allergy can help you decide what type of gloves may work best for you.

Can You Be Allergic to Latex Gloves?

Latex gloves are an essential part of many jobs, but they can cause complications with those who have a latex allergy. This allergy can manifest in many ways depending on the individual and the level of exposure to latex.

Dipped Natural Rubber Latex Products

Natural rubber latex products that are dipped contain the highest amount of latex proteins. These types of latex products include powder latex gloves. 

Synthetic Natural Rubber Latex Products

Natural rubber latex proteins are not present in synthetic natural rubber latex products such as gloves. They may contain rubber accelerators used in manufacturing. It is possible to have a reaction to synthetic rubber latex if you are sensitive to the accelerators.

What is a Latex Allergy?

A latex allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins present in natural rubber latex, a rubber tree resin. Your body basically misinterprets latex as a toxic agent.

How Common is Latex Allergy?

According to OSHA, 8-12% of health care workers are latex sensitive. While it is fairly rare affecting only 1% of the population within in the United States, anyone can develop a latex allergy at any time. They are most common in people with repeated exposure to latex products on a regular basis such as medical gloves. More commonly, it is found in employees who work in the dental and health field.

It can also be developed after repeated surgeries and there is a strong correlation with hay fever and allergic reactions to latex. Spina bifida patients are at higher risk due to their increased skin contact with latex gloves.

Latex Allergy Indicators

Signs of latex allergy can be mild such as a mild rash. More severe indicators can include severe redness, swelling or itching that may result in an asthma attack. Most often these allergic reactions include hives or breathing problems but some cases result in anaphylactic shock (severe allergic reaction).

What are Symptoms of Latex Allergy?

Symptoms will develop after repeated exposure to latex. Some of the most common symptoms include hives and itching, along with swelling of lips, eyes, throat and tongue. In severe cases people may develop anaphylaxis which is a life threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Mild to moderate symptoms of Type I IgE-Mediated Allergic Reaction include:

  • Itching, redness of skin, or hives
  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Sore throat or headache
  • Trouble breathing, wheezing, or coughing

Serious Anaphylaxis symptoms that can be life-threatening include:

  • Chest tightness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, asthma
  • Hives or swelling
  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps
  • Drop in blood pressure, dizziness, confusion, or loss of consciousness
  • Rapid or weak pulse

Please go to the emergency room immediately if you are having symptoms of an anaphylaxis reaction. 

What Causes Latex Allergy?

Allergic reactions are caused by the immune system reacting to latex antigens on the surface of latex gloves and other products made from latex. Touching powder latex gloves or inhaling particles in the air can trigger a reaction within minutes. Once an allergy is developed, exposure to latex products will cause further reactions in the future.

Essentially, the immune system recognizes latex as a potentially toxic agent and produces antibodies to combat it. These antibodies tell your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream the next time you're exposed to latex, resulting in a variety of allergy signs and symptoms.

What are the Different Types of Latex Allergy?

A latex allergy can be caused by direct contact with latex gloves touching the skin or by inhaling airborne particles. The two types of direct contact allergies to natural rubber products include Type I IgE-mediated allergic reaction and Type IV cell-mediated contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is a third type of reaction that is not caused by an allergy.

Type I IgE-Mediated Allergic Reaction

Type I IgE-mediated allergic reaction is an immediate allergic reaction to one or more proteins in natural rubber latex. Symptoms from this type of reaction may begin as mild skin sensitivity and progress to breathing issues or more serious life-threatening anaphylaxis. It is unknown how the body will react after exposure. Once a reaction begins, it can progress quickly.

Type IV Cell-Mediated Contact Dermatitis

Type IV cell-mediated contact dermatitis is delayed up to 96 hours after exposure as a reaction to the chemicals used to manufacture natural latex rubber. It is also known as allergic contact dermatitis forming a rash on the skin with blisters and possible oozing. 

Allergic contact dermatitis is not life-threatening but it is still a concern and needs to be take care of appropriately. A chronic problem may develop with multiple Type IV reactions from repeated exposure.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Many healthcare workers experience a non-allergic reaction caused by wearing gloves. It is not an immune system response typical of allergies. Instead, it is caused by frequent hand washing, sweating, and skin irritation from powdered gloves. Those symptoms include dryness, itchiness, skin redness, rash, and skin cracking on the hands. 

How is Latex Allergy Diagnosed?

Please see a board-certified doctor (usually an allergist) if you have any symptoms after direct or indirect contact with latex gloves. A doctor will determine if you are allergic to latex after a physical exam, review of your medical history, and clinical tests. 

A blood test may be ordered with the purpose of looking for latex antibodies but it is not 100% accurate. Skin testing can also be done for Latex-specific IgE antibodies. However, skin testing does have a small risk of adverse reactions. Bring a list of food and items with direct or airborne contact in the past 96 hours. This will help determine if you have a latex allergy.

Patch testing is used to determine if you have allergic contact dermatitis (Type IV). A medical history and physical exam only are used to diagnose irritant dermatitis.

What Foods are Related to Latex?

The same proteins found in the rubber tree sap can be found in some fruits, vegetables, and nuts causing Latex-Food Syndrome or Latex-Fruit Allergy. People with latex allergies may also experience a reaction to these foods.

  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Chestnut
  • Kiwi
  • Apple
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Papaya
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Melons

Is There a Cure For Latex Allergy?

There is no cure for a latex allergy. The only option is to avoid any contact with latex products. It can be difficult for people with an allergy because the use of latex gloves in almost any setting is extremely common. For example in a hospital setting, latex gloves are used in surgeries, emergency rooms and doctor appointments.

How Do You Prevent a Latex Allergy Reaction?

While latex gloves are often necessary for medical and other occupational uses, there are many ways to prevent an allergy from developing or stop one from getting worse. For example, those with a known latex allergy should avoid wearing latex gloves at all times. People who only wear latex gloves occasionally can use powder-free gloves for better comfort and fewer reactions in the workplace.

Everyone in the workplace may need to stop wearing latex gloves if asthma develops as a result of airborne exposure. This is especially true of cornstarch powdered latex gloves. The cornstarch acts as a carrier of protein particles from latex that cause an allergic reaction. It can easily be inhaled causing further irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

Is Latex Allergy Preventable?

You can prevent a latex allergy from causing a reaction or forming in the first place by simply avoiding latex gloves. The best way to prevent a reaction is by choosing an alternative to latex gloves such as nitrile or vinyl. Most healthcare workers, dental facilities, schools, food prep industries, and emergency medical responders have switched to non-latex gloves for this reason. 

How Do You Treat a Latex Allergy Reaction?

If you know you are allergic to latex gloves, the best way to treat it is by avoiding them completely. The symptoms could get worse over time. An antihistiamine or 1% hydrocortisone cream is used as a treatment for mild skin irritations on the hands. An Epinephrine shot is used to treat Anaphylaxis. This should be administered fast if symptoms occur.

To avoid these problems, consider wearing nitrile gloves or vinyl gloves at work. Make sure all co-workers wear only non-latex gloves to support each other and patients with latex sensitivity.

What Gloves Can I Use if I'm Allergic to Latex?

Wearing non-latex gloves, such as vinyl or nitrile, can help prevent an allergy to latex. The most sensitive people should avoid all contact with latex items and wear gloves as needed. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after wearing any kind of gloves.

Where to Find Latex Gloves Alternatives

By the way, did you know that you can find latex glove alternatives in our store? Yes, it's true. We have a full collection to provide safety for anyone allergic to latex gloves. Go here to see the different types of disposable gloves we have in stock and ready to ship.

Now that you know how to avoid an allergic reaction to latex gloves completely, what are your favorite non-latex glove alternatives?