When Your Child Has a Latex Allergy

An allergy is an extreme sensitivity to a certain substance (allergen). Your child has a latex allergy if he or she is sensitive to natural rubber latex. This allergy is a common problem among children who need repeated surgeries or medical procedures. Children with spina bifida are especially at risk of developing a latex allergy. If your child has a latex allergy, the best way to prevent symptoms is to avoid latex. Follow the tips on this sheet and any instructions given by your child’s healthcare provider.

What is latex?

Natural rubber latex is made from a liquid taken from the rubber tree. Latex can be found in many items including:

  • Latex surgical gloves  

  • Dishwashing gloves

  • Balloons

  • Rubber bands

  • Rubber balls

  • Pacifiers

  • Baby bottle nipples

  • Diapers

  • Adhesive strips (used to cover cuts and scrapes)

  • Elastic in underpants

  • Erasers

  • Toys

Some latex items, such as gloves, may be lined with powder. This powder can carry latex particles into the air. This can cause problems if your child breathes air containing the powder.

What foods should we avoid?

Some of the following fruits and vegetables contain proteins similar to latex can cause allergic symptoms:

  • Bananas

  • Cherries

  • Peaches

  • Nectarines

  • Plums

  • European chestnuts

  • Almonds

  • Peanuts

  • Pecans

  • Walnuts

  • Kiwi fruit

  • Avocados

  • Tomato

  • Potato

  • Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp

How does a latex allergy develop?

  • Latex protein is the allergen that causes a latex allergy. The more exposure that your child has to latex protein, the more likely that an allergy will develop.

  • Foods such as avocados and kiwis and the others listed above have proteins similar to those in natural rubber latex. An allergy to these foods may make a child more likely to develop a latex allergy.

What are the symptoms of a latex allergy?

If the latex protein touches the skin, your child may have a local (skin) reaction. If the latex protein gets into the lungs or bloodstream, your child may have a systemic (whole body) reaction. These symptoms can include:

  • Itchy eyes, nose, mouth

  • Sore throat or hoarseness

  • Stuffy or runny nose, sneezing

  • Itchy or red skin, hives, swelling

  • Wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, trouble breathing

  • Nausea, vomiting, cramping, or diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Shock (see the box below for more information)

How is a latex allergy diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history and do a physical exam. Tests, such as a skin prick test or a blood test, may be done. Your child’s healthcare provider will tell you more about these tests if they are needed.

What is the treatment for a latex allergy?

There is no cure for a latex allergy, but you can take steps to prevent your child from exposure to latex.

  • Alert others to your child’s latex allergy. Have your child wear a medical identification (ID) bracelet telling others that he or she has a latex allergy. This lets healthcare providers know that they need to avoid using latex when they care for your child. Contact your child’s healthcare providers including the dentist and school or daycare nurse. Have them note in your child’s file that your child has a latex allergy.

  • Carry an allergy kit. The kit should include:

    • Injectable epinephrine, which can stop an allergic reaction. Your child’s healthcare provider will give you a prescription for it.

    • Non-latex surgical gloves, which you can wear or give to others to wear if they must care for your child.

    • A note from your child’s healthcare provider stating that your child has a latex allergy.

    • A complete list of medicines your child takes.

  • Be aware of latex in everyday life. Ask your child’s healthcare provider for more information and resources about your child’s latex allergy. Check with your child’s healthcare provider whether your child needs to avoid foods that have proteins similar to latex. Ask at restaurants and at your child’s school whether latex gloves are used to handle or prepare food.

  • Substitutes for latex. Synthetic (non-latex) surgical gloves can be used. Mylar balloons are a safe substitute for rubber or latex balloons. Other substitutions include items such as plastic feeding nipples and pacifiers, plastic hairbrushes, and cloth or plastic toys.

  • Educate your child, family, and friends. Let them know when and how to use your child’s epinephrine. Also, let them know when to call for emergency help.

When to seek emergency care

Know the signs of shock.

Anaphylactic shock is a rare but life-threatening allergic reaction. If your child develops signs of shock, use the epinephrine right away. Then call 911 for emergency help. The signs of anaphylactic shock include the following:

  • Swelling of the eyes, lips, tongue

  • Wheezing, coughing, inability to breathe

  • Facial flushing

  • Rapid, pounding heartbeat

  • Feeling faint; loss of consciousness

Other resources

For more information on allergies, support groups, and product substitutions, try the resources below:

  • American Latex Allergy Association, 888-972-5378, www.latexallergyresources.org

  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, www.aaai.org