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ACAAI > Patients & Public > Resources > Ask the Allergist

How Best to Avoid Rubber Exposure in an Allergic Person?

Q. I’ve tried looking on line to no avail - just found out that I’m allergic to an ingredient used in the vulcanization of rubber – i.e. rain boots, the floor of the gym, the car steering wheel and a number of other things...I get the impression that latex is rubber or rubber is latex and am trying to find out: 

  • Do I need to stay away from latex in rain boots and gym floor altogether or is there anything I can use as a barrier? 
  • I also think my sofa cushions were reupholstered with a form of latex.  Will this come through the sofa material or do these cushions need to be lined with another substance?

A:  Allergic reactions to rubber can be due to:

1.  Reaction to the natural latex is called an “immediate hypersensitivity reaction” manifesting as hives, rhinitis (sneezing, runny nose), asthma (wheezing, difficulty of breathing) and/or anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction with drop of blood pressure, throat swelling). In most cases, these clinical events could be confirmed by a special blood test. Patients with this type of allergy must avoid both airborne and contact with rubber products and carry and epinephrine self injection kit.

2.  Allergy to one of the many chemicals used in the manufacturing of rubber. This is called a “delayed hypersensitivity reaction”. The natural latex sap is processed to make rubber products. The types of chemicals used in the manufacturing of rubber products such as rubber gloves include accelerators, activators, vulcanizing agents, etc.  These allergies manifest as eczema or itchy rashes to the area of contact and in such instances, patch tests to various rubber mix chemicals are appropriate. Patients with this form of allergy must avoid direct contact with latex and rubber products.

Very rarely some with eczema, especially the health care workers may have both types of allergies.  Since there are tests for both types of allergies, they should be done (if suspected) to determine if one needs to anticipate a more severe allergic reaction to natural latex (contained in rubber products such as gloves) and carry an emergency epinephrine kit. 

Otherwise, people allergic to the vulcanizing agent in rubber should avoid direct contact to rubber in products such a boots. Barriers such as socks may not always work since sweating, friction, etc. may cause some leaching of the rubber to the skin.  Plastic rain boots and other footwear are available.  Most gym floors have hardened rubber and would not contaminate towels just by mere leaving the towel on the floor and have indirect contact with your skin.  Significant direct contact is usually needed to cause a problem. Stuffing in sofa cushions are not in direct contact with the skin unless the covering has been compromised. If in doubt, a plastic barrier between the latex stuffed cushion and the covering can be done. Again, in a person with a history of contact dermatitis to rubber accelerators, direct significant contact to the rubber product should be avoided.