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Understanding latex allergy

If you have itchy skin, rashes or difficulty breathing when you use cleaning gloves or other latex products, you may have an allergy.

If the glove fits, wear it. But not if you are allergic to latex.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports many people are allergic. And often, they're exposed to latex while at work.

Gloves used in hospitals, in clinics and in homes for cleaning are frequently the source of that exposure.

Recognizing that, in 1997 NIOSH recommended that workers be protected from repeated exposure to latex due to allergic reactions.

What is latex?

Latex is a product of the rubber tree. Its ability to stretch into various shapes while still covering a surface makes it ideal as a barrier against bacteria, viruses and household chemicals.

Latex gloves are often coated with cornstarch powder, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Rubber-plant protein particles that stick to the powder may become airborne when the gloves are put on or taken off. People can inhale these airborne latex particles in areas where gloves are removed frequently.

Where would I find it?

In addition to gloves, latex is found in fabrics, elastics, toys, condoms, diaphragms and dental dams. Parents should be aware that many baby toys and pacifiers also are made of latex.

Who is allergic?

People who already have multiple allergies, eczema, or allergies to fruits and vegetables such as kiwis, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and avocados are at risk. Healthcare workers who use protective gloves are also at risk.

What are the symptoms?

On the skin, watch for a mild irritation, itching, hives or rash. Other symptoms include itchy, red or watery eyes, runny nose, and coughing.

If children play with latex toys such as balloons, parents should watch for an unexplained rash, stuffy nose or persistently watery eyes.

Extreme, life-threatening reactions include difficulty breathing or shock. This is similar to an allergic reaction to bee stings. People with extreme reactions should wear a MedicAlert bracelet and carry appropriate emergency medication. MedicAlert bracelets are available through the MedicAlert Foundation at 800.432.5378 or medicalert.org.

What are safe alternatives to latex?

You can use vinyl or synthetic gloves instead of latex. If latex gloves must be used, choose a reduced-protein or powder-free variety.

What if I think I'm allergic?

Talk to your doctor about your suspicions. You may need an allergy test.

Reviewed 7/2/2020

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