worldballonBy Gary Fitzgerald

It happened at a community barbecue. Ten-year-old Marie was drawn to the clown making balloon animals. Her choice: a ladybug. She tied it around her wrist.

A short time later, Marie’s wrist was blistered and bleeding. The balloon – made with latex – was clearly the culprit, her mom Martha says. A visit to an allergist confirmed Marie had a latex allergy.

“Marie knows it’s very important to stay away from all latex products and she carries epinephrine auto-injectors in case of a severe reaction,” Martha says. “We now use latex-safe Mylar balloons for parties.”

Latex allergy is a reaction to proteins in rubber tree sap, the milky fluid used to manufacture more than 40,000 products available worldwide. Symptoms range from mild skin irritation to life-threatening anaphylaxis, and there’s no way to predict which will occur if exposed.

Latex is common in hospitals, doctor and dentist offices, emergency departments and ambulances, although many of those facilities have switched to latex-safe gloves and medical instruments. About 8-12 percent of people with latex allergy are healthcare workers. People who undergo multiple surgeries – such as spina bifida patients – are also at increased risk.

Latex can be found in everyday items such as rubber bands, bandages, mouse pads, bath mats, garden hoses, rubber balls and toys, sports equipment, and baby pacifiers.

Latex at Home

Molly’s new latex mattress was soft and comfy, but she soon found herself tossing and turning every night, with itching and a burning sensation on her skin. Diagnosed with latex allergy, she is buying a new mattress made of organic cotton.

What’s inside Katie’s closet? The elastic in her clothing – blue jeans, socks, undergarments and nightgown – contained latex and was the source of her allergic reactions. Now Katie, a high school senior, wears clothing made of cotton, some of which she makes herself.

Latex at School

Jenna put on goggles in chemistry class and a few minutes later felt itching around her eyes. A rash soon developed. When she learned the goggles were made with latex, she went to an allergist who confirmed her latex allergy.

Mary Grace joined her high school swim team, but every practice left her with a migraine headache and a swollen face. Her spandex swimsuit and swim cap contained latex; she switched to non-latex swim attire.

Latex in Restaurants

Geof always talks to restaurant staff before eating out. Latex gloves used in food preparation or cleanup put him at risk for anaphylaxis. Fortunately, many restaurants are switching to vinyl or nitrile gloves. Geof also has to be aware of ordering certain cross-reactive foods – such as banana, kiwi and avocados – that contain proteins similar to those found in latex.

If You’re Allergic to Latex…

The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid latex.

  • Always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors – epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
  • Notify your family, friends, school, employer and co-workers, medical and dental providers, and paramedics and EMTs about your latex allergy.
  • Wear Medical Alert Identification at all times.
  • Contact the manufacturer if you’re uncertain whether a product contains latex. Ask for the consumer relations department.
  • Learn more about latex allergy in our Latex Allergy Toolbox.

Reviewed by Tera Crisalida, PA-C