Latex Allergy

Key Points

  • Natural rubber latex contains protein that can cause allergic reactions. Synthetic latex products, including nitrile and vinyl products,1 are not made with this protein.
  • Powdered latex gloves have been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to the role powder plays in triggering allergic response in susceptible individuals.
  • Oil-based hand lotions can damage latex gloves and increase the risk of allergic reactions.
Overview
Natural rubber latex, which comes from the sap of rubber trees, contains a number of proteins that can cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. Synthetic latex products, including those made of nitrile or vinyl materials,1 are not made with this protein. On this page, latex refers specifically to natural rubber latex products.

Latex allergy is rare—affecting approximately 1 percent of the general population and 3-12 percent of healthcare workers.1, 2 However, the allergic response to latex can be severe, including anaphylaxis, which could result in death.

Risk Factors for Allergic Reactions to Latex
Many dental professionals come into contact with latex products every day (i.e., examination gloves, dental dams, tubing, etc.). This repeated exposure can increase the risk of developing a latex allergy.

Oil-based hand lotions can cause gloves to deteriorate and solubilize latex proteins, increasing the risk of allergic skin response, such as itching, redness or rash.1

Up until 2017, powdered latex gloves were used in healthcare settings. At that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned powdered latex gloves because the natural rubber latex protein combined with the powder and could become airborne when the gloves were removed. The airborne mix could’ve been inhaled, triggering an allergic reaction. The powder used in latex gloves may also be related to cutaneous reactions, such as delayed wound healing.3

In addition, people who are allergic to certain foods, including apples, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnuts, kiwi, melons, papaya, raw potato and/or tomatoes are at an increased risk of latex allergy.4 Conversely, people with latex allergy may also be allergic to these foods. People who are sensitive to other allergens, like mold and pollen, may be allergic to latex as well.1

People who have had multiple surgeries also may be at increased risk of latex allergy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that the vial stoppers of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not made with natural rubber latex, so there is no contraindication or precaution to vaccination for persons with a latex allergy.

Symptoms of Allergic Reactions to Latex
Symptoms of latex allergy include4, 5:
  • Skin reactions like itching, redness, rash or hives
  • Itchy nose, throat or eyes
  • Nausea, abdominal cramps
  • Difficulty breathing, including a runny nose, sneezing, coughing or wheezing

While most reactions occur within minutes of exposure, some skin reactions may not develop for 24-48 hours afterward.1

Anaphylaxis, which could be life-threatening, can occur. This systemic reaction can cause a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and/or swelling of the throat, tongue and nose.4

It is worth noting that the intensity of an individual’s previous reaction does not predict severity of future reactions.  Moreover, mucosal exposure to latex may be associated with more severe reactions such as anaphylaxis.6 If you suspect that you may have a latex allergy, see your physician for testing. If an allergy is diagnosed, you may need to use products not made with natural rubber latex.1, 7 Also, ask your patients about latex allergy history, or history of latex allergy symptoms.  They, likewise, may require use of products that are not made of latex during treatment.

If you are concerned about latex content in the products you use, contact the manufacturer. The FDA recommends that labeling for non-latex products state that they were ”not made with natural rubber latex.” They note that the claim “latex free” could be inaccurate as the agency is not aware of any tests that show a product does not contain any natural rubber latex proteins, which can cause allergic reactions.8

References
  1. Caballero ML, Quirce S. Identification and practical management of latex allergy in occupational settings. Expert Rev Clin Immunol 2015;11(9):977-92.
  2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Latex Allergy.  Accessed March 5, 2018.
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Banned Devices; Powdered Surgeon's Gloves, Powdered Patient Examination Gloves, and Absorbable Powder for Lubricating a Surgeon's Glove.  2016.  Accessed March 5, 2018.
  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Latex Allergy.  Accessed March 5, 2018.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions—Contact Dermatitis and Latex Allergy.  Accessed June 11, 2019.
  6. Minami CA, Barnard C, Bilimoria KY. Management of a Patient With a Latex Allergy. JAMA 2017;317(3):309-10.
  7. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Standards Interpretations, Standard No. 1910.1030.  1995.  Accessed March 5, 2018.
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Don't be Misled by "Latex Free" Claims.  2015.  Accessed March 5, 2018.

ADA Resources

Topic last updated: January 5, 2021

Prepared by:

Department of Scientific Information, Evidence Synthesis & Translation Research, ADA Science & Research Institute, LLC.


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