Latex allergies affect less than 1 percent of the American population, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and while latex is present in a lot of things — medical gloves, toys, balloons, dentistry tools, even adhesives used in hair extensions — you may not experience symptoms like itching or rash until you start using condoms.
"This is a fairly common scenario," Ronald Purcell, MD, allergist-immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told POPSUGAR. If you're wondering how you could go years without realizing you had an allergy, there are a couple possible explanations. Symptoms can be so mild and seemingly unrelated to your environment that you may simply dismiss them, Dr. Purcell noted. You might also just develop the allergy later in life. "There is no good explanation why some people develop latex allergy, but more frequent exposure to latex over time increases the risk," he said.
A latex allergy is a reaction to proteins found in the sap of rubber trees, which is then used to make latex products, Dr. Purcell explained. Interestingly, the same proteins are found in certain foods, including apples, avocado, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnut, kiwi, melons, papaya, raw potatoes, and tomatoes. That means you may have experienced food allergy symptoms during your life, even if you never noticed anything related to latex, specifically.
When it comes to sex, you're most likely to experience localized irritation, discomfort, and itching anywhere the condom made contact. "If the body thinks there is some sort of invading microbe, it may manifest in a mild contact reaction. The most common symptom is a red, itchy rash called contact dermatitis or hives," which can take a day or two to develop, Dr. Purcell said. In more severe cases, latex allergies can lead to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
That's why it's important to talk to a doctor about your symptoms. Your provider may recommend allergy testing, and there are also treatments that can help bring you some relief while the reaction heals. You'll need to explore other options for preventing pregnancy and STIs as well, such as condoms made with materials like polyurethane or lambskin.