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What is latex?

Latex is another name for natural rubber. It's found in many common items, including rubber bands, balloons, condoms, gloves, diaphragms, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers, elastic in waistbands and bathing suits, bath mats with rubber backing, glue and paste, hot water bottles, rubber-grip utensils and racquet handles, rubber toys, shoe and sneaker soles, and swimming goggles.


If you're allergic to latex, you may have mild signs and symptoms at first. But they may become worse every time you have contact with latex. Your skin may itch and you may notice hives (red, raised blotches). Seconds, minutes, or hours after contact with latex, your eyes may become watery, your nose may run, and your throat may feel tight or itchy. You may have trouble breathing, your lips and throat may swell, and your heart may pound. Because these signs and symptoms are serious, and may even cause death, call 911 for help right away if you experience any of them.


Why am I allergic to latex?

You're allergic to latex because your body treats latex as an allergen. The more contact you have with latex, especially latex gloves, the more likely you'll become allergic to it.


You're more likely to become allergic to latex if you're already allergic to other things, such as ragweed. If you're allergic to latex, you may also be allergic to avocados, bananas, chestnuts, and kiwis. If you're allergic to these foods, you may also be allergic to latex.


How will my healthcare provider know I have a latex allergy?

You'll be asked questions about your health, including allergic reactions you've had in the past. Answer all the questions carefully, even if the answers don't seem important. Many people have a latex allergy without knowing it. For example, if your lips ever swelled when you went to the dentist or after you blew up a balloon, you may have been reacting to latex. Your healthcare provider may also order blood and skin tests to identify your allergy.


How can I prevent or treat latex allergy reactions?

The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid any contact with latex. If you have an itchy rash, your healthcare provider can give you medicine that will make you feel better, such as diphenhydramine, but this isn't a cure. If you've had signs and symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, such as wheezing or a very low blood pressure, your healthcare provider will prescribe an epinephrine autoinjector for you.


To protect yourself from a serious reaction:


* Keep medicine handy. If your healthcare provider prescribes an epinephrine autoinjector or other medicine, carry it with you at all times. If you have problems breathing or other serious symptoms, use your epinephrine autoinjector and immediately call 911 for help.


* Wear a medic alert bracelet that indicates you have a latex allergy. If you have a scheduled procedure or visit at a doctor's office or hospital, call before you go to let them know that you're allergic to latex and that they must use nonlatex gloves and equipment when they treat you.


* Call ahead of time when eating out. Because some restaurant workers wear latex gloves when preparing food, ask that they prepare your food without latex gloves. You could have a serious reaction even from secondhand contact with latex.


* Avoid anything that contains latex. Although many items are made of latex, some are more dangerous than others. For example, latex gloves, balloons, and condoms are made from a stretchy type of latex that's more likely to cause a reaction than hard molded items, such as rubber tires. When items made of stretchy latex are snapped, latex released into the air can cause an allergic reaction. If you think an item might be made of latex, check the item's label or packaging. If an item you need to use is made of latex, call the manufacturer and ask if a nonlatex version is available.