Our expert says:
A small percentage of the population is either sensitive, or allergic, to a natural rubber protein found in latex -- the material of most condoms and surgical gloves. With more and more people using condoms and surgical gloves for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), particularly HIV, we are seeing a corresponding rise in the number of people with latex allergies and sensitivities.
Some people experience mild reactions when they use latex. (This is referred to as a latex sensitivity.) Reactions tend to worsen with time and exposure to latex. On the other hand, there are people who are truly allergic to latex. Sometimes, a latex allergy can resemble, and be mistaken for, a reaction to spermicide (e.g., nonoxynol-9) or lube, a vaginal or anal infection, or a sexually transmitted disease (STD). People with severe hypersensitivity (i.e., allergy) to latex experience a strong reaction immediately upon contact or exposure. Generally, reactions to latex in condoms tend to be less severe than reactions to latex in gloves. (More people have life-threatening reactions to latex gloves than to condoms.) Symptoms usually include one or more of the following: skin rash, dryness, itching, eczema, and, in rare cases, welts. At the extreme, a person could experience difficulty breathing, and even go into anaphylactic shock. Severe latex allergies, however, are rare.
If you think you might be allergic or sensitive to latex, talk with your health care provider to determine the cause of the allergy: latex, spermicide (nonoxynol-9), lube, or an infection. If you wear latex gloves, presumably for work, you could speak with your boss or employer about what your alternatives are. If your suspicion of latex allergy stems from condom use, you can test yourself with a latex glove. If you do have a latex allergy, you will also react to latex in gloves; this reaction typically produces a slight tingling, or itching, sensation.
If the glove test fails to produce an answer to your problem, then you could try condoms that do not contain nonoxynol-9. Also, try experimenting with different brands and different types of condoms to get a range of different kinds of lube. Alternatively, use non-lubed condoms and then experiment with lubes. Just remember to use water-based lubes to preserve the integrity of the condom.
If you're pretty sure that you are sensitive, or allergic, to latex, try non-latex condoms. If your sole concern is the prevention of pregnancy, lambskin condoms could be an option for you. Lambskin condoms do NOT prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted viruses. While it may seem challenging, some people wear two condoms -- a latex condom over a lambskin one (or vice-versa, depending on who is sensitive or allergic to latex).
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