“Latex allergy is serious and increasingly common,” says Maeve O’Connor, MD, board-certified allergist from Charlotte, North Carolina. Most at risk are health care workers, children with spina bifida and others exposed to latex through multiple medical procedures or surgeries.
What many people don’t realize is that latex can cross-react with some foods. “Most patients have no idea about the common components of latex and food,” Dr. O’Connor says.
Because of similar protein structures, people allergic to latex will often experience an allergic reaction when they eat banana, avocado, chestnut or kiwi.
“I tell my latex patients to avoid those foods,” she says. For a complete list of cross-reactive fruits and vegetables, visit www.latexallergyresources.org/cross-reactive-foods.
Presenting an American Latex Allergy Association (ALAA) Latex Allergy Awareness Week webinar last October, facilitated by Allergy & Asthma Network, Dr. O’Connor says latex allergy symptoms range from mild to severe and can include hives, sneezing, runny nose, headache, fatigue – or, most serious, anaphylaxis.
Some people develop a rash on their hands after wearing latex gloves, but this is often contact dermatitis, not true latex allergy.
Dr. O’Connor, a volunteer with the Anaphylaxis Community Experts (ACE) program, recommends all her latex allergy patients carry two doses of auto-injectable epinephrine and know when and how to use it for anaphylaxis.
“Latex is everywhere – it’s very hard to avoid,” she says.
In addition to medical gloves and balloons, it can be found in rubber balls, physical therapy resistance bands, spandex clothing and mattresses.
If you have latex allergy, make sure you inform your entire health care team, including dentists.
“If you suspect you have latex allergy, consult a board-certified allergist,” Dr. O’Connor says. Standard skin prick and blood tests can be deceptive, so it’s important to work with a specialist.
For more information and a list of common latex products, visit the American Latex Allergy Association at www.latexallergyresources.org.
Reviewed by Tera Crisalida, PA-C, and Sue Lockwood