Skip to comments.Living with latex allergy requires constant caution
Posted on 04/17/2005 1:43:53 PM PDT by tuffydoodle
Living with a latex allergy requires constant caution
By Mitch Mitchell
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
FORT WORTH - Sherry McGee's latex allergy has made her deathly afraid of balloons.
Recently, McGee saw balloons at a Sam's Club, but because they were at a distance, she assumed it would be safe to go inside.
Her body reacted to the latex almost immediately, but McGee discounted the warning signs -- the scratchy throat, watery eyes and itchy scalp. A little while later, as she and her husband, John, left a nearby restaurant, she could barely breathe.
"John was handing me a toothpick as we were walking out," McGee said. "And I was chasing it -- my hand was going all around it. Then I fell into his arms."
Balloons are not McGee's only latex problem. For hundreds like McGee, walking into hospitals, stores and offices is like entering a minefield.
Latex is found in about 40,000 products, but only a few have warning labels. Avoiding latex is the primary prescription for people who are allergic. But without warning labels, it is impossible to tell which products are safe.
"My life is very restricted," said McGee, 62, of Fort Worth. "I can't go into malls anymore. It's in bras, panties, shoes, stockings. It's like I'm in a bubble. I see a balloon, and I panic. I go into a doctor's office, and I panic. It's in the doctor's tables. It's just gotten to the point where I can hardly do anything."
A heavy burden
Researchers estimate that up to 6 percent of the population may be allergic to latex but that less than 1 percent is as sensitive as McGee.
In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration required that medical devices containing latex be labeled. Government officials were reacting to three deaths attributed to reactions to latex cuffs on barium-enema catheters.
But consumer products have largely been left alone because most of the documented cases of death from latex exposure have involved medical procedures.
Last year, the Consumer Products Safety Commission denied a petition requesting the labeling of products containing natural rubber latex.
Thomas Moore, a products safety commissioner, added a statement to the denial that read: "Sometimes our laws fail us. This may be one of those times. ... When people's health and quality of life are at stake, I do not like having to decide how many allergic reactions are enough for us to take action. While the number of people that experience the more severe symptoms are relatively low, for those people who have severe reactions from exposure to NRL, this can literally be a life-or-death issue."
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists is considering labeling medicine vials that have latex stoppers. Its decision is expected this summer, spokeswoman Teresa Rubio said, and could lead to a similar request to the FDA. The group represents about 30,000 pharmacists who work in U.S. hospitals.
"A lot of times, [pharmacists] have to call the manufacturer, and a lot of times they cannot get ahold of a person with the right information," Rubio said. "Meanwhile, the patient is waiting for their medicine."
For nonmedical consumer products, latex-allergy sufferers often have to call the manufacturer and ask for the product's ingredient list.
"You spend a lot of time on the phone and faxing ... if you want [the ingredients] in writing," said Sue Lockwood, executive director of the American Latex Allergy Association, a Wisconsin advocacy group. "You can call customer service and they can tell you, and you can buy the product if you want to believe them."
When her recent reaction became severe, McGee took two Benadryl and was taken to Harris Methodist Southwest hospital by ambulance. Her husband had readied McGee's EpiPen -- a self-injection device containing epinephrine, used for anaphylactic shock. But paramedics said they carried those supplies on the ambulance.
"My mouth swelled up. The side of my face swelled," she said. "My chest swelled up as well. My bra was so tight I couldn't breathe. I was gasping for air. John said I passed out, but I don't know."
For allergy sufferers, repeated latex exposure increases reactivity and the severity of the reactions, said Alfred Johnson, a Dallas allergist who treats McGee.
McGee said she believes that 14 knee surgeries and other operations have contributed to her latex allergies. McGee once ran a small business that made ceramic figurines. She used latex bands to hold them together and wore latex gloves. McGee broke out in rashes, and, over time, they became worse.
McGee no longer does any type of work. She wears a bracelet that warns of her latex allergy. A booklet McGee gives to medical staff lists her prescriptions and surgical procedures. McGee prides herself on being prepared, and she is frustrated by health care providers who aren't.
"The nurses get mad, some of them, when I tell them I can't be exposed to latex," McGee said. "I'm trying everything I can do to stay away from it, and I can't stay away from it."
Some restaurants near McGee's home are staffed with people who are aware of her condition and will watch out for her. She can see the balloons and avoid them. Things she can't see are the threats to McGee's health. Before she enters one of these restaurants, McGee peers in their windows, looking for hints of things that could kill her.
"This has taken my life away," McGee said. "The life that I had before latex and the life that I have now are two different things. The only place that I feel safe now is in my doctor's office."
IN THE KNOW
Natural rubber latex
Natural rubber latex is made from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, which typically grows in Central and South America.
The more tightly compacted rubber products, such as bowling balls, are less likely to cause allergic reactions.
Some people who wear latex gloves get bumps, sores or cracks on their hands. These symptoms usually appear 12 to 36 hours after contact with latex.
Some products that contain latex include art supplies, diapers, chewing gum, feeding nipples, pacifiers, wheelchair tires and cushions, condoms, carpet backing, floor mats, playground surfaces, syringes, Band-Aids, earplugs, erasers, bicycle handles and toys.
A latex allergy can be mild or severe, with symptoms such as itchy, red, watery eyes; sneezing; runny nose; coughing; rash or hives; chest tightness and shortness of breath; and shock.
A latex-sensitive person can also have a life-threatening allergic reaction with no warnings or symptoms.
SOURCES: The American Academy of Family Physicians and the Spina Bifida Association of America
I have a neice who is a nurse and worked NICU for years. She developed a latex alergy after 10 years it got so bad she had to quit and go to work in a doctors office.
"I go into a doctor's office, and I panic. It's in the doctor's tables."
"The nurses get mad, some of them, when I tell them I can't be exposed to latex,"
"The only place that I feel safe now is in my doctor's office."
Hope her husband uses Lambskins.
....I know....."Insensitivity Alert!"
Once again, the rule is supposed to be governed by the exception. Very few people are latex intolerant, and even fewer to the extent this woman claims she is. But all wills should bend to this extreme case.
People with sensitivies to latex are reacting to the proteins in the liquid form of the sap. The proteins are actually donated by the tree sap and can cause anaphylactic reactions like bee stings.
It is mostly the LIQUID form of rubber called "latex" that will cause these reactions because these proteins are active.
In the DRY RUBBER used in many products, the heating and curing process of the rubber will denature the proteins and render them much, much less liable to act up in sensitive people.
Here, eat some peanuts.
I've worked in a lab for almost 20 years and have from time to time had a problem with latex allergy. It's always when the admin types start buying the cheapest latex gloves which haven't been washed. The residue powder is what really gets to me.
I used to tell my girlfriend I was allergic to latex. Got away with it too, although I think she was suspicious.
"Sherry McGee's latex allergy has made her deathly afraid of balloons."
I'm afraid of clowns.
You should be...
They float down here, they ALL flooooooooooat.....
Ahhhhh! Now I need a beer to calm my nerves and it's all your fault.
I had a dentist that retired after developing a latex allergy.
Being blamed for causing the consumption of alcohol? I think I can live with the guilt....
My girlfriend told me that I drove her too drink.
I've been allergic to latex since a year after I started working. Thankfully my allergy isn't as severe as some. There are some dental offices that try to be latex free. Even the rubber cup that we polish your teeth with is non-latex. The only trouble I've had is when I go to the hospital for tests or other procedures. I have to tell everyone along the line of my allergy, even though they ask you when you register. Often the hospital staff just doesn't notice that little tidbit on your chart!!