Latex, or natural rubber latex, is derived from the sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. After collection, latex goes through a complex manufacturing process during which chemicals such as accelerators and preservatives are added. The final product is a durable, flexible material consisting of latex proteins and added chemicals.
Latex is most commonly used to manufacture disposable latex gloves and is widely used in certain industries, including health care, emergency services, veterinary care and body piercing to protect workers from the risk of infection, particularly when performing tasks that involve contact with blood and body substances.
Latex allergy is a catch-all term to describe three distinct conditions:
Cornstarch powder is sometimes added to disposable latex gloves during manufacture to make them easier to put on and inhaling the powder can cause respiratory sensitisation in susceptible people.
Skin exposure can also occur from wearing latex gloves and touching surfaces that are contaminated with powder from powdered latex gloves.
Anyone can develop latex allergy, particularly people who have frequent and prolonged exposure to latex products, or who are susceptible to the condition.
Substituting powdered latex gloves with low protein powder-free latex gloves is an important way to prevent latex allergy. Alternative types of gloves (e.g. nitrile or vinyl) may also be used where appropriate.
Workers who develop signs and symptoms of latex allergy should seek medical advice.
Download our fact sheet on latex allergy (PDF, 118 kB).