In a latex allergy, your immune system identifies latex as a harmful substance and triggers certain antibodies to fight the allergen. The next time you're exposed to latex, the antibodies signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals into your bloodstream, producing a range of signs and symptoms. The more exposure you have to latex, the more strongly your immune system is likely to respond (sensitization).

Latex allergy can occur in these ways:

  • Direct contact. The most common cause of latex allergy involves touching latex-containing products, including latex gloves, condoms and balloons.
  • Inhalation. Latex products, especially gloves, shed latex particles, which you can breathe in when they become airborne. The amount of airborne latex from gloves differs greatly depending on the brand of glove used.

It's possible to have other reactions to latex that aren't allergies to the latex itself. They include:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis. This reaction to the chemical additives used during manufacturing produces signs and symptoms — usually a skin rash similar to that of poison ivy, including blisters — 24 to 48 hours after contact.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis. Not an allergy, this form of dermatitis most likely is an irritation caused by wearing rubber gloves or exposure to the powder inside them. Signs and symptoms include dry, itchy, irritated areas, usually on the hands.

Not all latex products are made from natural sources. Products containing man-made (synthetic) latex, such as latex paint, are unlikely to cause a reaction.

Oct. 14, 2014