November 29, 2007
Imagine. Youre trying to write a note with a pencil. You touch the rubber eraser, and all of a sudden, you break out in a rash and have trouble breathing. Your lips swell and you know you are in big trouble. It is time for 911.
Millions of Americans live with this reality thanks to latex allergy. Latex allergy is one of the fastest growing, least known, and most dangerous allergies in the country. How come?
Latex is everywhere, at home, work, in the hospital and in the doctor's office. Its in little daily things like bandages, balloons, erasers, bicycle handles, rubber toys, paints, shoes, condoms and the elastic band in your underwear.
It is incredibly common in health care settings, like blood pressure cuffs, catheters, IV equipment, sterile gloves, tourniquets, bandages, and more.
Latex is made from milky white sap which drips from rubber trees when the bark is cut. Manufacturers turn it into crepe rubber, the kind of hard rubber found in tires, which does not generally cause allergy.
They also turn it into liquid latex, the kind which does cause allergies. They stretch it into rubber bands, balloons and surgical gloves.
Latex: it's everywhere
Since liquid latex blocks germs like staph and the AIDS virus, its use has skyrocketed in the last decade and so has latex allergy. Millions of Americans have allergies to latex, including nearly 10% of health care workers.
This makes sense, because the more frequently and intensely you come in contact with latex the more likely you are to develop the allergy. Having other allergies may contribute as well. Hayfever sufferers and folks who are allergic to foods like bananas, avocado and chestnuts are more likely to develop latex allergy.
How do you know if you have latex allergy? Well, if you have a reaction when you touch latex, simply breathe near latex, or touch something which came in contact with latex you may have latex allergy.
For example, some folks are allergic to the corn starch in latex gloves or to IV fluids, which have touched latex in the IV line.
Latex allergy can cause breathing problems like stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing or shortness of breath. It can cause skin rashes like hives or send you into anaphylactic shock, which can kill you.
Doctors diagnose it by taking your history, doing a physical exam, and sending a blood test. There is no accurate skin test. Unfortunately the blood test misses a lot of people with latex allergy.
The best way to treat latex allergy is to avoid latex and wear an allergy identification bracelet.
If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, get immediate medical attention or head for the emergency room. If your symptoms are severe, call 911. You may need oral and/or topical antihistamines and/or steroids, inhaled asthma medicines and a shot of adrenaline to save your life.
Most latex allergic patients carry adrenaline -- like the Epi-Pen or Twinject -- and other emergency medicines with them, just in case. Taking antihistamines every day may not prevent all reactions, but can take the edge off them. Taking extra precautions with latex allergy, a growing national health problem, makes a lot of sense.