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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 health care provider.
Natural rubber latex is made from a liquid taken from the rubber tree. Latex can be found in many items including:
Latex surgical gloves
Baby bottle nipples
Adhesive strips (used to cover cuts and scrapes)
Elastic in underpants
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.
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 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.
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
Stuffy or runny nose; sneezing
Itchy or red skin; hives; swelling
Wheezing, coughing; shortness of breath; trouble breathing
Nausea, vomiting, cramping, or diarrhea
Shock (see the box below for more information)
A physical exam is performed on your child. Your child’s health care provider also asks about your child’s symptoms and health history. Tests, such as a skin prick test or a blood test, may be done. Your child’s health care provider will tell you more about these tests if they are needed.
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 health care providers know that they need to avoid using latex when they care for your child. Contact your child’s health care 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, such as the EpiPen, which can stop an allergic reaction. Your child’s doctor 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 health care provider stating that your child has a latex allergy.
A complete list of medications your child takes.
Be aware of latex in everyday life. Ask your child’s health care provider for more information and resources about your child’s latex allergy. Check with your child’s health care 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 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.
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
Rapid, pounding heartbeat
Feeling faint; loss of consciousness
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