Latex allergies - for hospital patients
If you have a latex allergy, your skin or mucous membranes react when latex touches them. A severe latex allergy can affect breathing and cause other serious problems.
Latex is made from the sap of rubber trees. Very strong and stretchy, it is used in a lot of medical equipment.
Hospital Items That Contain Latex
Below is a list of common hospital items that may contain latex. Other hospital items may also contain latex.
- Surgical gloves and exam gloves
- Catheters and other tubing
- Sticky tape or electrode pads (these are attached to your skin during an EKG)
- Blood pressure cuffs
- Tourniquets (bands that are used to stop or slow blood flow)
- Stethoscopes (used to listen to your heart beat and breathing)
- Grips on crutches and crutch tips
- Bed sheet protectors
- Elastic bandages and wraps
- Wheelchair tires and cushions
- Medicine vials
Are You at Risk for a Latex Allergy?
A lot of contact with latex over time increases your risk of a latex allergy. Some people in this group are:
- Hospital workers
- People who have had many surgeries because gloves and other equipment used during surgery contain latex
- People with conditions like spina bifida and urinary tract defects because tubing is used to treat them
Others who may become allergic to latex are people who are allergic to foods that have the same proteins that are in latex. Three of these foods are bananas, avocado, and chestnuts.
Some other foods that are less strongly linked with latex allergy are kiwi, peaches, nectarines, celery, melons, tomatoes, papayas, figs, potatoes, apples, and carrots.
Latex allergy is diagnosed by how you have reacted to latex in the past. If you developed a rash or other symptoms after contact with latex, you are allergic to latex. Allergy skin testing can help diagnose a latex allergy.
A blood test can also be done. If you have latex allergens in your blood, you are allergic to latex. Allergens are substances your body makes to fight off something you are allergic to.
Signs and Symptoms of Latex Allergies
You can have a reaction to latex if your skin, mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, or other moist areas), or bloodstream (during surgery) come into contact with latex. Breathing in the powder in latex gloves can also cause reactions.
Some symptoms of latex allergy are:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Skin redness and swelling
- Watery, itchy eyes
- Runny nose
- Scratchy throat
- Wheezing or coughing
Signs of a severe allergic reaction often involve more than one body part. Some of the symptoms are:
- Having a hard time breathing or swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps
- Pale or red skin
- Symptoms of shock (these may include shallow breathing, cold and clammy skin, and weakness)
A severe allergic reaction is an emergency. You must be treated right away.
How to Avoid Exposure to Latex in the Hospital
If you have a latex allergy, avoid items that contain latex. Ask for equipment that is made with vinyl or silicone instead of latex. Here are some other ways to avoid latex while you are in the hospital. Ask for:
- Equipment such as stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs to be covered, so that they do not touch your skin
- A sign to be posted on your door and notes in your medical chart about your allergy to latex.
- Any latex gloves or other items that contain latex to be removed from your room
- The pharmacy and dietary staff to be told about your latex allergy so they do not use latex when they prepare your medicines and food
Pien LC. Allergy and immunology. In: Cary WD, ed. Current Clinical Medicine. 2nd Ed. Cleveland Clinic. 2010.
Reviewed By: Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology, Georgetown University Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.