If you have a latex allergy, you know all too well that even some of the simplest activities can put your health at great risk. That’s why it’s important to know what items you should avoid in order to prevent a reaction, which can vary from a very simple rash all of the way to a life-threatening attack.

A Common Substance

Latex is a common substance that is made from the sap of a rubber tree. It is readily available and relatively inexpensive, making it a good choice to use to create a variety of common items that you are likely to encounter in doctor’s office and in other health care settings. It is also used in many items that you may have right in your own home.

Some of the types of latex products you can find today include:

  • Rubber gloves
  • IV tubing
  • Tennis shoes
  • Condoms and Diaphragms
  • Balloons
  • Rubber hoses
  • Tires
  • Baby bottle nipples and pacifiers
  • Rubber pet and tub toys

In addition, latex is sometimes used in items like grocery store checkout belts and ATM machine buttons, so you need to be on your guard wherever you go.

The Symptoms

You probably know first-hand how being exposed to latex can trigger a variety of symptoms. How extreme your reaction is will be depends on how severe your allergy is. But keep in mind that even a minor reaction can sometimes lead to a very dramatic one, since with each repeated exposure to latex, your body can respond more strongly. In fact, the more you are around latex the more sensitized to this substance you may become.

How a Latex Allergy Works

A latex allergy can occur in several different ways. The first type of latex allergy is caused when your body reacts to a chemical that is used in the manufacturing process of the latex item. This most often affects health care workers who wear latex gloves on the job. When the allergy is caused by the chemical additive, the symptoms that result can include a rash and blistering that usually shows up a day or two after you have been exposed to the substance.

In the second type of allergy, your body responds to the latex protein itself. This type of reaction happens usually within a few minutes. Further, some latex gloves are coated in cornstarch and this powder releases some of the latex proteins in the air, where you can inhale them and become further sensitized.

When the reaction is caused by the latex protein, the symptoms you experience may be more serious, and can include:

  • Hives
  • Runny nose
  • Allergic asthma
  • Itching

Note that in more extreme cases, people may also have increased pulse rate, with a sudden drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing. These can be signs that you may be having a life-threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock. If you think you could be experiencing a serious problem, always seek emergency attention to be assessed and treated by a medical professional.

Who’s at Risk?

People who already have allergies and asthma are at increased risk for latex allergies. In addition, there is thought to be a connection between latex allergies and allergies to certain foods, including bananas, tomatoes, pineapples, kiwis and avocados. Finally, people who work in the health care industry and come into regular contact with latex are at increased risk for developing a reaction to this substance.

Protect Yourself

You can’t cure a latex allergy, but you can take some important steps to protect yourself by preventing or limiting your exposure to items that are made from latex. Steer clear of rubber gloves, balloons and baby items and other products that contain this substance. When you aren’t sure what a product is made from, always check the label or contact the manufacturer and always err on the side of caution. You should also make you sure your doctors know about your allergy and are prepared to provide a latex-free environment for you.

It’s also wise to have an emergency plan ready in case you do come into contact with latex and have a reaction. Talk to your doctor in advance about the most appropriate treatment to take in such a case. Often an antihistamine can help block mild symptoms. In more severe reactions, corticosteroid drugs may help you to feel better. If you think you may be having an anaphylaxis reaction, though, you should seek medical treatment immediately. Your doctor may also prescribe an epinephrine kit you can carry with you in case of an emergency.