Q: What do patients with latex allergy need to know about cross-reactivity with fruits and vegetables? Should they avoid all foods that cross-react?

Sandra Gawchik, DO: Natural rubber latex allergy occurs in about 1-6 percent of people in the United States. If you’re allergic to natural rubber latex, you’re usually exposed to it in the workplace, especially if you wear latex gloves and you’re a healthcare worker, restaurant worker, beautician, mortician or toll collector.

Now there’s a percentage of latex allergy patients – approximately 50 percent –who are also reactive to specific foods: primarily banana, chestnut, avocado and kiwi.

Like the rubber tree where latex comes from, these foods are botanical plants. The rubber tree has more than 200 proteins and 14 of these proteins are also in these specific foods and can cause an allergic reaction.

It’s not necessary for patients to avoid all foods that cross-react with the latex plant. If you develop an itchy mouth or tongue, or you experience respiratory difficulty when you eat the food, then you want to avoid it.

Latex allergy patients also have to be very conscientious handling many normal, everyday items that may contain latex. There are 40,000 products that are made from natural rubber latex. For example, in your house you could have items such as rubber balls, rubber bands, elastic bands, Band-aids or adhesives that can cause you to react. Rubber gloves are also a problem in the home.

Natural rubber latex is the critical ingredient you’re looking for and it’s what you want to avoid if you have latex allergy.

Sandra Gawchik, DO, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Crozer-Keystone Health System in Upland and Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. A Fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), she was named the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Woman in Allergy Award from ACAAI.

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