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Living with a Latex Allergy: Poison in Surprising Places at Home

Updated on August 7, 2012

Do you know someone with a latex allergy?

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Location of life-altering event

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Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
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The Background

Before my honeymoon to Mexico in 2010 I was an allergy-free person. I mean in Spring, sure I was bothered by some typical pollens, but I never had to take Benadryl or carry an Epi-pen. After my run in with a water-born parasite, my body’s immune response went into hyper-drive. After 18 months of medical care, dozens of food allergies, truckloads of medication and supplements, my body is back to quasi-normal, save for my now life-threatening Stage IV latex allergy. I carry an Epi-pen, I have an accommodation at work to be in a latex-free environment, and I’m balancing the line between overly paranoid and cautious as I move through the modern world of plastics. Here is my attempt to help raise awareness to the complications of a latex allergy and give some helpful tips to others who are coping.

What Is Latex?

It is an elastic polymer derived from the natural rubber tree. It is a pliable plastic used for its convenience and cheap production. It is the cheaper alternative to silicone often used for: sealing items airtight, providing a soft grip surface, or for its stretchy quality. And where can it be found? The short answer: EVERYWHERE.

Latex glove
Latex glove | Source

Obvious Latex

When people think latex, they think condoms and gloves. After an exposure people with a latex allergy will immediately, or within a few minutes, feel a skin irritation, itching and burning in the area that came in contact with the latex. Some may experience difficulty breathing, leading to anaphylaxis. With a few smart choices it is fairly easy to avoid putting on a latex glove or using a latex condom. Other exposures can be much more difficult to track.

So What Exactly Are You Allergic to?

Technically I am allergic to the latex protein, the molecule related to the natural rubber tree. The most common latex reaction is dermatological. When an allergic person touches a surface made of latex, the area that came in contact becomes inflamed and itches. However, the most dangerous type of exposure is airborne latex. Take gloves for example, many latex gloves come covered in powder to prevent them from sticking together. This powder, usually cornstarch, is benign but picks up some surface proteins from the stretchy glove. When a glove is snapped or pulled out of the box, thousands of tiny latex proteins are sprayed into the air, making the allergen airborne in concentrated amounts. The difficulty is that this latex protein dust can settle on anything in the area causing a blanket of potentially lethal molecules.

In the Kitchen

I had to replace $800 in kitchen supplies when I became overly reactive to latex proteins. A good rule of thumb is the more expensive an item is, the less likely it is to contain cheap latex. Products marked with silicone grips and handles are fine. The items from the liquidation stores or off-brands from discount outlets are questionable. Latex may be in handles of pots, pans, and utensils. It can be found on the spoon or spatula end of kitchen utensils. Latex can be found in the seals of cheaper Tupperware or airtight jars. Appliances may use rubber latex for seals between pieces. When it doubt, I threw it out. I didn’t want to chance an episode of anaphylaxis after dinner.

If you are cooking for a guest with a latex allergy, use wooden utensils. Hard plastic is fine but avoid things with rubbery grips, unless you are sure it is silicone.

In the Bathroom

At my most inflammatory stage, I was getting hives every time I took a shower. I prayed that I wasn’t allergic to water. After much research and experimenting, I realized the culprit was the bath mat. Obviously, rubber bathmats are definitely to be avoided but I was reacting to a cotton/polyester bathmat with latex grippers on the bottom. Most carpet grips are made of latex, as is the manufactured backing on carpets. New carpet smell is a combination of formaldehyde, latex, and other poisons off-gassing from the production process.

A big danger area in the bathroom is the medicine cabinet. People with latex allergies can’t use regular bandages as the pliable material, the tape, and the adhesive can contain latex proteins. Bandages must say LATEX FREE on the package. I’ve had good luck with the Nexcare brand.

Hair elastics may cause a reaction depending on the material the band is wrapped in.

The soft grip on a toothbrush may be silicone but double check that free one from the dentist before using if you have a latex allergy. Oral B toothbrushes are known for being latex free. But an extremely allergic person will need to store their toothbrush away from latex containing brands in the holder.

Latex Free Crocs Are an Option

Closeted Latex

I replaced over $1,000 in clothing when my latex allergy worsened. I can’t wear anything with exposed elastic. So that means underwear needs to have all elastic bands covered in cotton or contain no elastic. Underwear with no elastic, means it falls around your ankles or gives you an eternal-wedgie. There is a reason undergarments contain elastic. I’ve had to get my bras special ordered through a company in Peru that uses allergen-free cotton and no elastic in their bras (even large sizes!)

Socks cannot have exposed elastic bands or large amounts of elastic threading. Nike brand socks have worked well for me.

As a rule spandex causes me a problem. Lycra brand spandex is latex free, however, and is generally more expensive in a well-made garment. Now that I am more healed I can wear clothing that contains up to 5% spandex. Bathing suits are challenging but I’ve found a combo of polyester board shorts and a tankini made of Lycra spandex are okay for short periods of time.

Shoes are difficult. The soles of most shoes are made of rubber. If I touch the rubber bottom of a shoe as I put it on my hand burns and turns red. I’ve become very friendly with Crocs. The Croslite material their shoes are made out of is a plastic alternative to rubber. You do have to read carefully thought because some models have “rubber outsoles”, which are to be avoided. Other shoe options include all leather moccasins and shoes with wooden soles. Some people may find that by having a non-latex insert they can wear any shoe with a rubber sole.

In the Toy Chest

Stretchy, sticky, squishy toys may be made of latex. Stress balls, Koosh balls, rubber kick balls, and some cheap clay brands contain latex. If it is from the dollar store and not made of hard plastic, chances are it contains latex. For a latex allergic child: avoid pliable plastics, try to find vintage wooden toys, or stick to stuffed animals. Anything that smells plastic-y straight out of the package may also be a danger. Pool toys can contain latex as well. The best pool items are vinyl, not latex.

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    • Jenn-Anne profile image

      Jenn-Anne 4 years ago

      An interesting hub - I had no idea latex is so prevelant! You included lots of very useful information!

    • Colleen Jordan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Jordan LMHC 4 years ago from Western Massachusetts

      I'm glad you found it useful. It has been so tricky navigating the world with this severe allergy. I figured others could use the information.

    • annajazz profile image

      Anna Marie 4 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you very much for this awesome hub!

      I have a very severe latex allergy that makes everyday life extra difficult. I recently had to push my case to have latex gloves banned from my College Chemistry Lab; people don't tend to understand that even not wearing the gloves, but having others wear them around you, is enough to set off an attack.

      I am now off to go buy a new toothbrush as to make sure it's latex free.

    • profile image

      Loni 4 years ago

      Hi, how do I contact you directly? I have been on a year ++ long journey to figure out what set off my chronic hives. After finally figuring out it was my running clothes (long story how I figured it out), in particular, LuLuLemon pants, I got blood tested and I have a severe latex allergy. I'd really like to know about this company in Peru. I also thought I might be able to pick your brain on the clothing issue as I'm just now trying to figure it out and it's really hard since nothing is labeled. Thank you for any and all information or contact!!!

    • annajazz profile image

      Anna Marie 4 years ago from Connecticut

      Ahh, well your problem there is probably Spandex. These days a lot of workout cloths(mainly the stretchy ones) are made out of Spandex, which, if your allergic to latex, you can have a reaction to as well. Basically, if it is overly stretchy, it has spandex. Or, if the wast-band is stretchy, it has spandex in the waste band. Elastic is bad for some too.

      you should check out the American Latex Allergy Association Website. They have great lists of common items that contain latex as well as alternatives.

    • profile image

      my9 3 years ago

      Can you tell me the company in Peru for bras? I am having a difficult time finding all cotton bras and camisoles that come in my size!!! Thank you!

    • profile image

      charlene 3 years ago

      Please let me know where you get your bras, i am living on benadryl char0813@msn.com

    • profile image

      Colleen 3 years ago

      Hi all, I'm so glad to be able to help out others as it is such a nightmare. I get my bras from LatexFreeUndies.com. There are a variety of styles available and they come in plus size. Be patient as they are made to order and often take over a month to arrive. They are not very attractive looking but I find the material and style very comfortable. I've also had luck with Leading Lady and their latex free bra. It's a more traditional fit. Hope this info helps ladies!

    • profile image

      Sam 3 years ago

      Hi Colleen! My name is Samantha and I've been perusing the internet looking for answers and your hub may just be the answer. I was wondering, with your latex allergy what types of reactions would you have to your clothing? Were you extremely itchy? Did you constantly have hives or just sometimes? After showers, you said you were having trouble with the bath mat - did that cause hives and itching? Just trying to get some things figured out since the doctors haven't really been able to help me for the past year. Any info would be appreciated! Thanks for your time!

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      which brand of hair elastics (ponytail holders) are latex free? thx

    • Colleen Jordan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Jordan LMHC 3 years ago from Western Massachusetts

      My reaction to clothing was severe itchiness with hives and redness. My hives came and went. And yes after showers the bath mat caused hives and itching, spreading from my feet/ankles up the rest of my legs.

    • Colleen Jordan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Jordan LMHC 3 years ago from Western Massachusetts

      There are actually a lot of latex free hair elastics. I found it was best to google different brands and then go to my local stores to see which they carried. Sometimes "Latex Free" is printed right on the label.

    • Colleen Jordan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Jordan LMHC 3 years ago from Western Massachusetts

      Hi all-

      Just wanted to update that another great source for latex free bras is LeadingLady.com. They have "normal" styles, colors, and a large range of sizes. It takes a little poking around because they focus on nursing bras.

    • profile image

      ange 3 years ago

      I have been living with a severe latex allergy since the late 80's. I have encountered a lot of ignorance from lay people and health care professionals. I had a fellow nurse insist on giving me an injection with a syringe that was not latex free as she did not want to go thru the effort of getting me a glass syringe. Had another tell me she'd wash my arm after she took the latex tourniquet off my arm. I have also seen people freak over walking into a freshly painted room. Latex paint is synthetic. It will not cause you grief. I have arrested more times then I care to count as I was diagnosed so early in the discovery of the latex disaster. I unfortunately suffered severe long term effects. Other than avoiding latex balloons, and gloves I don't make any special effort in my life. I make sure when I go out to eat that latex has not been used in food prep. I manage just fine with lyrca bras and panties. There are the small things that still trip me up occasionally. My mom has elastic bands around the handle of her coffee mug cupboard and forgets and asks me to get me a mug...or someone gives my daughter a toys that has latex and we have to get rid of it. I have never had a reaction to touching hard rubber....it tends to vulcanized and relatively safe. I have more of an issue if any natural rubber came in contact with mucus membrane. If questioning the severity or whether my allergy is legit. I have had testing done. First round testing resulted in an immediate reaction with the doctor having to take the allergen off immediately. My arm swelled twice its size. Blood was then drawn and sent to WI and test high to IgE . I am good as long as I don't have to breath it in. IF it snaps and is airborn it is dangerous. IF it comes in contact with my muscous membranes it is dangerous. The rest is just annoying and I try to avoid.

    • profile image

      lissa 2 years ago

      I react to shea butter which i've just found out has similar proteins to latex … while researching shea butter I came across a list of foods that are also triggers. These are: banana, avocado, kiwi, chestnut, and papaya, as well as almonds (which I am already severely allergic too). I'm going to eleminate (sad, sad, sad) said foods to see if redness on palms of hands and feet as well as upper chest and neck are relieved …

    • profile image

      cary 2 years ago

      Hi, latex-free bras can also be found at

    • profile image

      cary 2 years ago

      Hi, latex-free bras can also be found at Cottonique.com

    • profile image

      Chrissie 17 months ago

      Toothbrushes are one of the first ways that I realized my allergy. I buy the all plastic ones at the natural grocery store.

    • profile image

      katie 3 months ago

      I found cottonique products and they helped with my allergies

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