Latex condom allergy: symptoms, causes & alternatives
Natural latex is the sap of the rubber tree. This is different to synthetic latex which is made from petrochemicals. Latex is used to make several types of common household and workplace object, including gloves, balloons, and elastic bands. It’s also the main material used to make condoms.
Some people have an allergy to natural latex, and for them, using latex condoms will bring on unpleasant symptoms. The good news is, there are alternative types of condom made from different materials. Read on to find out more.
How do I know if I have a latex allergy?
You’ll know if you have a latex allergy quite quickly after using a latex product. Symptoms such as an itchy rash (see more below) can begin within a few minutes of exposure.
You may notice these symptoms for the first time after blowing up a balloon, using a condom, or having a medical procedure from a doctor or dentist wearing medical gloves.
What’s worth bearing in mind is that, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, a latex allergy tends to develop after “many previous exposures” to latex. In other words, you could have used latex products several times in the past without having any reaction.
What are the symptoms of a latex allergy?
A latex allergy can cause a few different types of allergic symptom – some of which may be localised, and some of which may be systemic (i.e. affecting the whole body).
For most people, the symptoms of a latex allergy are mild, and include:
- Red, itchy, and raised rash (hives)
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
Sometimes, a latex allergy can lead to asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, and a tight chest. In very severe cases, exposure to latex can lead to anaphylaxis, however this is rare.
A latex allergy can also cause a specific skin reaction known as allergic contact dermatitis. This is a type of eczema where the skin that came into contact with the latex becomes irritated and blistered a few days after exposure.
How long does an allergic reaction to condoms last?
For most people, the symptoms of a latex allergy will come on quite quickly, and be fairly mild. However, it’s hard to predict how long an allergic reaction will last – symptoms may pass after a few hours, or may last a few days, or potentially even longer.
An important step in managing the reaction is to avoid further exposure to the allergen. In other words, don’t come into contact with any more latex products!
How to treat a reaction to latex condoms
If you’ve had an allergic reaction, and you think latex condoms are the cause, the first thing to do is to avoid exposure to any more latex. This means avoiding using latex condoms, and avoiding using other products that contain latex, such as:
- Medical gloves
- Washing up gloves
- Elastic bands (e.g. in underwear)
- Hot water bottles
- Handles of toys and machines
- Baby bottle teats
- Office equipment
In the short term, you can treat a mild reaction by rinsing the affected area with cool water and taking antihistamine tablets.
In the long term, it can be a good idea to talk to your GP about your suspected allergy – especially if the symptoms have been quite severe. If you've had a more serious reaction affecting your breathing or causing anaphylaxis your GP might refer you for allergy testing.
Latex condom alternatives
It’s important to remember that an allergy to latex condoms doesn’t mean you can’t use condoms!
Because latex allergies are fairly common, there are plenty of alternative condoms available. In fact, some brands, including SKYN, specialise in making latex-free condoms.
Latex-free condoms can be made from:
Usually, these condoms will be clearly labelled as “non-latex” or “latex-free”. However, if you aren’t sure, make sure you check the ingredients list before you buy. You can also ask the pharmacist for advice.
Safe sex with Online Doctor
Having a latex allergy can be annoying, but you shouldn’t let it stop you practising safe sex.
If you’re planning to have sex with somebody new, and you aren’t sure about their STI status, you should always use a condom. Make sure you stay stocked up on your chosen brand of latex-free condoms, and avoid using condoms supplied by other people, unless you can be certain they don’t contain latex.
You can also learn more by reading this article: What to do if a condom breaks.