Latex allergy is one of the most frequently overlooked allergies, but it is becoming more common and more serious. The reaction is to the proteins found in the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree. Exposure to latex is responsible for over 200 cases of anaphylaxis each year and 10 deaths. An estimated 5 to 15 percent of health care workers are allergic to latex. Other high risk people are those who have undergone frequent medical treatments or a long surgery. In the general population, the incidence is much lower, about 1 in 1000. Common household products containing latex are balloons, rubber bands, condoms, rubber household gloves, rubber balls and Band-Aids.
Fresh fruit and latex
Several years ago, I had a patient who was an eye surgeon. He came to me because over the last few years, he had become a vegetarian and had recently noticed that he was having reactions to many foods he had previously eaten without any problems. Cherries, plums, carrots, celery and bananas suddenly made his mouth itch. He also noticed that when he was working in the operating room, his eyes would begin to bother him and by the end of the surgery, they felt itchy and swollen. When I heard bananas and the surgery itchiness, I put two and two together and diagnosed a latex allergy. The rubber gloves being used by the surgeon and his staff were releasing latex particles into the air and causing my patient to have asthma and eye swelling. People with latex allergies often first show up with allergies to fresh fruits like bananas, avocados, kiwis and papaya, as well as to chestnuts.
Common symptoms of a latex allergy
- Red itchy rash where you were exposed to latex
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Asthma, coughing or wheezing
Severe or life threatening
- Anaphylactic shock
- Drop in blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- Blue tinge to the skin, lips or nails
What is frightening about a latex allergy is that it can get progressively worse with each exposure. People with latex allergies are also at higher risk of developing allergies to fresh fruit. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation recommends that people with latex allergies not eat fresh fruit without an EpiPen on hand. The group also recommends carrying identification alerting people that you have a latex allergy, in case you need emergency medical care. People with severe latex allergies may not be able to enter a room filled with balloons without having a reaction.
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