|Volume VIII, Number 1
Latex Allergy and Contraception
What is latex?
Latex is a material derived from the sap of a rubber tree. Many companies use latex rubber in their products. Some of these products include contraceptives, such as latex male condoms and the diaphragm. Other latex-containing products include many household items and health care supplies, such as latex examining gloves.
What is latex allergy?
An allergy is a reaction of the body to a substance it perceives as foreign or “outside of itself.” Allergic reactions may manifest in various ways. One of the most common symptoms of latex allergy is contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis consists of a rash that occurs on the area of the body where the person touches latex. For example, contact dermatitis may occur on the hands of a person who wears latex gloves frequently.
Are there other symptoms of latex allergy?
Yes, latex allergy can manifest in many ways other than a rash. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. It is important to recognize the early symptoms because experts believe that the sensitivity can become more serious over time as a person is repeatedly exposed to latex.
Who is at risk?
Some groups face an increased risk for developing latex allergy. Health care workers who frequently use latex gloves and touch health care products containing latex are at higher risk than average. People with medical conditions that require frequent procedures or surgery (medical or dental) are also at higher risk than average. Those who work in manufacturing of products containing latex also suffer from a greater risk of the allergy.
What signs might alert me to latex allergy?Some Household Products that May Contain Latex
Swelling and itching are common signs of latex allergy. Suspect latex allergy if you have swelling and itching after medical examinations, contact with rubber gloves, swelling or itching of the mouth and lips after blowing up a balloon or a dental examination, or oral itching after eating bananas, chestnuts or avocados.
- Rubber bands
- Dishwashing gloves
- Hot water bottles
- Shoe soles
- Sports equipment
Symptoms of Latex Allergy
- Rash, itching
- Sneezing, runny nose
- Swelling or itching after medical or dental examinations
- Facial flushing, hives
- Shortness of breath, wheezing
- Rapid breathing
- Anxiety, confusion
- Feeling faint
Most male condoms and the diaphragm contain latex rubber. If you notice either penile, vaginal or rectal itching or swelling after using these birth control methods you may be experiencing latex sensitivity. If you have these symptoms, consult your health care provider.
Are there alternative condoms I can use if I’m allergic to latex?
Several types of condoms are suitable for persons allergic to latex. Lambskin condoms (made from the intestinal lining of lambs) do not contain latex. Unfortunately, while lambskin condoms can provide protection against pregnancy, they do not provide an adequate barrier against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
For persons allergic to latex who desire some protection against STDs, two condoms made of polyurethane are available.
The female condom (Reality®)*
The female condom is made of polyurethane, a type of plastic. The woman inserts the condom into the vagina, where it is held in place with a ring similar to the diaphragm. Another ring stays outside the vagina, where it lays against the labia. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the female condom for pregnancy protection and to help protect against STDs, including AIDS (HIV infection).
Laboratory tests show that viruses and bacteria that cause STDs cannot get through the plastic. The FDA advises that the male condom is the first choice to protect against STDs; however, if your partner refuses to use a male latex condom, you may wish to use the female condom to help protect yourself against infection.
The product protects against pregnancy about as well as other barrier methods, with an average 21% pregnancy rate in the first year. With correct and consistent use with every act of intercourse, however, the pregnancy rate may be as low as 5%.
The female condom is available without a prescription in drugstores and supermarkets around the country. The product comes in one size and costs about $3 per condom, although family planning clinics may provide them at a lower cost. You do not need to use a spermicide with the female condom, although you can if you wish to. The female condom comes prelubricated and comes with an extra bottle of nonspermicidal lubricant. Use each female condom once only.
The male polyurethane condom (Avanti®)*
A male polyurethane condom has been approved by the FDA and is available in 13 western states. In 1997, the manufacturer plans to make the condom available across the nation. The condoms come in packages of six and retail for about $9 to $10. The male condom is indicated for pregnancy protection. While researchers believe that polyurethane can be highly effective against STD transmission, FDA labeling does not specify protection against STDs because more data from human clinical trials are needed.
*Brand names are for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsement.Note: This material is not under copyright. Feel free to duplicate and distribute to your patients.
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