A history of latex allergy

Dennis R. Ownby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Archaeologists have found that latex items were used as early as 1600 BC, but it took until approximately 1900 AD before surgical gloves were commonly used. Descriptions of apparent allergic reactions to natural rubber appeared in the medical literature in 1927, and irritant and delayed-contact reactions were reported in 1933. Although irritant and delayed-contact reactions to rubber products were increasingly recognized, immediate-type allergic reactions were not reported again until 1979. However, after 1980, increasing numbers of contact urticarial reactions to latex were reported, and investigations suggested that many of these reactions were IgE-mediated. In 1984, the first anaphylactic reactions caused by latex surgical gloves were reported, followed in 1991 by the first report of a fatal anaphylactic reaction to latex. Increasing recognition of latex allergy led to divergent paths of investigation. Critical early questions were whether the observed reactions were truly IgE-mediated, and if they were IgE-mediated, what was the source of the allergen? If the allergen was present in latex products, where did it come from? Was it present in raw latex or was it added during processing? As knowledge about the allergens improved, efforts were made to develop and test materials for skin testing and for allergen-specific IgE assays. Now more than 10 unique proteins are recognized as major latex allergens. Although much has been learned about latex allergy, important unanswered questions remain, including the sources of latex exposure that led to sensitization, why latex allergy increased dramatically during the 1980s, and the prevalence of latex allergy in diverse populations. This review concentrates on the history of latex use in medicine and the dramatic emergence of immediate-type latex allergy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S27-S32
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number2 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Aug 2002


  • Latex allergy
  • Natural rubber
  • Surgical gloves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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