Your guide to a latex condom allergy – causes, symptoms, treatment and alternatives

Your guide to a latex condom allergy – causes, symptoms, treatment and alternatives

You might think that having a reaction to something in the bedroom is nothing but an inconvenience and if it can be ignored, it should be. Interruption mid-coitus is certainly not ideal. But with allergies, everything changes, and especially severe allergies. Being allergic to latex is as dangerous as being allergic to nuts, for example. Just because you don’t ingest the allergen doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a problem. In fact, suffering an allergy to latex – or indeed anything – is potentially a very serious medical emergency.

The severity of the symptoms can vary widely on a scale from very mild to absolutely life-threatening. Yes, you read that right, using condoms could present a threat to your life if you’re allergic to them and continue using them. If you suspect that you or your partner might have this latex allergy then it’s definitely worth getting clued-up on what it is, what causes it and how you should deal with it – plus the impact that it can have on your sex life. If you already know that you have an allergy then there are plenty of alternatives on the market for you to try.

Do I actually have a latex allergy?

It’s a good question, because there’s still some confusion about whether or not you have an allergy. One of the most prevalent (and incorrect) assumptions is that you definitely do not have an allergy to latex condoms if you’ve used them before and had no problems. But this isn’t how allergies work. It’s perfectly possible to use them with no problems and then go on to suffer symptoms. The body can become sensitive to something when it’s been used previously (latex condoms in this example), but it then only causes a reaction on subsequent occasions. The advice from the ACAAI is if you’ve been having sex using a condom and you have signs and symptoms of being unwell, don’t rule out a latex allergy just because you haven’t reacted before.

What are the symptoms and signs that we should be looking out for?

In general, allergies tend to have the same sorts of symptoms as each other, whether this is nuts, dairy, medicines, tree pollen, etc. You may not have realised that latex condoms can cause allergies, but pretty much anything that exists can provoke an adverse reaction if the person is sensitive to it. The slight exception with condoms is that it’s likely to be more unpleasant because the irritation will occur in a localised area around the genitals which tends to be more sensitive.

Common signs that you’re suffering from an allergic reaction (general, not specific to latex):

  • Redness and swelling
  • Hives
  • Runny nose
  • Itching
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest.

Also keep an eye out for ‘allergic contact dermatitis’ which presents as a rash and can then go on to blister the skin.

The most serious consequence of a latex allergy is something called anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis, which occurs if there’s a severe reaction and it can cause the airway to become swollen and blocked, preventing the person from breathing in the worst case scenario. This is a very serious, life threatening condition which requires urgent medical treatment.

How long will the allergic reaction last?

There’s no one answer, it can vary from person to person. It can occur just minutes after exposure and the length of time it lasts depends on exactly what the reaction is. It can be as mild as not needing any treatment, or just having an antihistamine, right through to what we’ve already mentioned, anaphylaxis, and in some circumstances 999 being dialled.

It might seem as though it goes against the grain slightly, but sometimes the best treatment for a latex allergy is simply avoidance, in line with the ‘prevention rather than cure’ mentality. Unless of course you have a severe reaction in which case you might need preventative medicine. If you suspect that you have an allergy to latex then you must see a doctor, even if your symptoms are initially mild, because there’s nothing to say that they won’t go on to become severe. Plus, medical advice is essential in managing the condition and preventing further reactions. In some severe cases you may be given an epipen to use if your symptoms are rapidly becoming life-threatening, or medicines to prevent the symptoms reoccurring.

If you’ve having intercourse and you begin experiencing discomfort and you think the condom may be causing it, stop and remove it immediately, thereby reducing the amount of time that you have in contact with the irritant which is vital in minimising any adverse reaction. If this does happen then don’t forget that safe sex is still an issue and it should be at the forefront of your mind. It might be disappointing and inconvenient, but you don’t want STIs/STDs or an unplanned pregnancy thrown into the mix. The best thing to do is steer away from penetrative sex and concentrate on other aspects of intimacy.

What are the alternatives to latex condoms?

You don’t need to be worrying about not being able to use condoms if this allergy is an issue for you or your partner, there are plenty of alternatives on the market that have been developed with this specific allergy in mind. They are still as safe and effective – they just don’t have the latex element. You have excellent options to check out here and then you can choose the ones that you think are the best. Not using latex doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your sex life at all, providing that it’s recognised, dealt with and medical treatment sought if necessary.

Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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