Latex allergy and condom allergy

Latex allergy is an allergic reaction to latex products, such as condoms, rubber gloves, and materials that include latex. We’re not sure why latex allergy has increased, but it’s likely due to increased usage and sheer exposure.

The more you are exposed to latex, the higher your chance of becoming allergic. This means nurses, doctors, dentists and paramedics or even patients who have worn gloves a lot are often sufferers, however women reacting after sex with a latex condom are also growing in number.

Those allergic to latex often have other allergies, for example to dust or pollen.

Symptoms of latex condom sensitivity or allergy

  • Irritation after sex with a condom
  • Soreness
  • Swelling of the vagina and/or vulva, sometimes by several times its normal size
  • Vaginal and vulvar pain
  • Scaley vulvar skin
  • Weeping sores
  • Rough, dry skin
  • Hives around the vaginal and vulvar area
  • Itching
  • In severe allergy, anaphylaxis can occur

What is latex?

Contrary to what you might believe, latex is actually the sap of a tree – the Hevea brasiliensis tree – but with stabilisers and preservatives added so it lasts a longer time. Chemicals are added to make latex elastic and stable, strong and durable.

Another issue with latex gloves is that they are covered in cornstarch to stop the finger parts from rubbing together. These cornstarch particles may become airborne with latex attached, causing an airborne allergen.

What contains latex?

  • Condoms
  • Diaphragms
  • Gloves
  • Bandages
  • Baby bottle teats
  • Baby dummies
  • Rubber bands
  • Elastic bands in clothing
  • Rubber toys
  • Rubber grips
  • Medical equipment
  • Balloons

Synthetic rubber is does not contain any latex allergens and is unlikely to cause a reaction.

Allergic reactions to latex

The strongest allergic reactions to latex are the most dangerous because they can cause anaphylaxis – swollen lips, face or tongue which can impede breathing, causing death if there is no intervention.

Those who develop a sensitivity over time may find that the contact causes itching, hives, and swelling. This reaction might occur after using a condom or blowing up a balloon.

A reaction can also occur if breathing in the latex particles, causing hayfever or asthma.

An allergic reaction may take up to 48 hours to develop. People with sensitivities to latex may also be sensitive to certain foods like banana, avocado, kiwi fruit, passionfruit, plums, strawberries and tomatoes.

Irritant and allergic contact dermatitis of the vulva and vagina

Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common outcome for a person sensitive to latex, with vaginal and vulvar symptoms similar to other forms of dermatitis – itching, dry skin, irritation.

An irritation isn’t a true allergic reaction as the immune system is not involved, but the skin is. Allergic contact dermatitis, by contrast, is an immune response to latex, but looks very similar to irritant dermatitis. These forms of dermatitis can be uncomfortable, but are not dangerous.

Treatment for latex allergy

  • Treatment revolves firstly around prevention – avoid all latex, find alternatives for condoms and gloves where necessary, and if you suffer anaphylaxis, wear an allergy bracelet.
  • Advise your medical practitioners.
  • Avoid food suppliers who use latex gloves.
  • Use latex-free gloves, and if you work around latex, take precautions.

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)