Have a Latex Allergy? 4 Safe Condom Types for You

Does wearing latex gloves make your hands itch? In some people, latex exposure can ignite a full-blown allergic reaction.

Of course, gloves aren’t the only things made from latex. Most condoms are latex-based, too. Luckily, there are plenty of latex-free options available.

Even if you are OK with latex, you may need to consider them for the sake of your partner.

“Women are more likely to experience an allergic reaction to a latex condom than men,” says David Lang, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The vagina’s mucus membranes make it easier for latex proteins to enter the body. During sex, women with latex allergies may encounter vaginal swelling and itching.

“Mucus membrane exposure to a condom in a woman with latex allergy could provoke a serious systemic reaction,” he says.

Are you latex-sensitive or latex-allergic?

Latex is a milky fluid from the rubber tree. It’s the main source of natural rubber.

Latex sensitivity develops in some people over time through repeated exposure. It causes the same type of skin reaction — red, itchy bumps — you might see from poison ivy.

Before latex-free gloves were widely available, the issue was common among healthcare workers. Latex sensitivity is now less common, Dr. Lang says.

True latex allergies are even more rare. But they cause a more severe response. You may notice itching, hives and swelling. You may also have difficulty breathing and feel like your throat is closing up.

Although very unlikely, anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction) is possible. Your body reacts when latex proteins cross the skin barrier.

What effective, latex-free options are available?

Though most condoms contain latex, there are a few alternatives made from plastic, synthetic rubber or other natural products. These alternatives include:

  1. Polyurethane condoms. These are made of thin plastic instead of rubber. They offer similar levels of pregnancy and STD protection. However, they don’t fit as tightly as latex condoms. So they are more likely to slip off. They also cost a little more.
  2. Polyisoprene condoms. Made from synthetic rubber, these don’t contain the same proteins that cause an allergic reaction. Compared to latex condoms, polyisoprene condoms are stretchier. They also offer similar levels of pregnancy and STD prevention.
  3. Female condoms. This is the only option a woman can wear. A flexible, soft plastic pouch inserts into the vagina with a flexible polyurethane ring coated with a silicone lubricant. The levels of pregnancy and STD prevention are similar to other condoms.
  4. Lambskin condoms. Made of sheep intestines, this condom is the only one made of a natural animal product, so it doesn’t contain any of the proteins that prompt the latex allergy. While lambskin condoms are effective against pregnancy, tiny holes in the condom are big enough to allow viruses that cause STDs to pass through. Only use lambskin condoms if the risk of STDs isn’t a concern, Dr. Lang says.

If you’re concerned you might have a latex allergy, see your doctor. He or she will use either a skin or blood test to find out.

It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor for more information about latex-free protection during sex. He or she can offer advice on the best option for you and your partner.

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