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Latex Allergy

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Latex allergy facts

  • Latex allergies peaked in the 1990s and have dramatically decreased since the widespread use of latex-free products.
  • Fifty percent of latex-allergic individuals have another type of allergy, such as a food allergy.
  • Latex allergy can lead to a serious allergic reaction but can also cause a localized skin reaction.
  • Those at higher risk for latex allergy include health-care professionals and patients with chronic medical problems and a history of multiple surgeries, particularly patients with spina bifida.

What is latex and where is it found?

Latex is a natural product which comes from the light milky fluid extracted from the rubber tree. This milky fluid is often modified during the manufacturing process to form a latex mixture. A person can be allergic to the latex or the mixture or both. Latex-containing products are many and varied (see the list below). Common household latex products include balloons and condoms. Common medical latex products include stoppers on syringes, blood pressure cuffs, oxygen tubing, and catheters. The powder of surgical gloves was a significant problem before appropriate substitutes were developed, as the powder could be inhaled and could lead to respiratory difficulties.

What caused the rise in latex allergies?

In the 1980s, with the emergence of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), it became increasingly important to take precautions that would prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This effort resulted in the application of universal precautions for protecting a person from infectious material, such as blood and other bodily fluids, using protective barriers. The most commonly used barrier was the latex glove. The prevalence of latex allergy peaked at 3%-9.5% in the 1990s but now has fallen to less than 1% in countries where active latex avoidance measures are practiced.

Who is at risk for developing a latex allergy?

Repeated exposure to latex is necessary for an allergy to develop. Health-care workers exposed to latex products (such as gloves and catheters), people who require frequent surgery or catheter use, and workers in the manufacturing or distribution of latex products are at the highest risk for latex allergy. For unknown reasons, people who have surgeries of the spine or urinary tract have a much higher risk of latex allergy.

There is also an association of unique food allergy among people allergic to latex, known as the fruit latex syndrome. People allergic to latex are frequently allergic to various fruits, particularly avocado, banana, chestnut, and kiwi.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/29/2016


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