Living with a Latex Allergy: Avoiding Poison in Public Places
Accidental Exposures Poll
Have you ever had an unexplained allergic reaction?
Latex is Everywhere
Living with a latex allergy has made me consider every small decision when going someplace new. Will I have a reaction to the fabrics or the cleaning method or the air filtration system? Here are a few of the things that a person with a severe latex allergy has to consider when going out.
It is hard to avoid the latex gloves found in many restaurant kitchens. The first order of business is to ask each and every restaurant what kind of gloves they use. This often requires a call ahead of time or a conversation with the host/hostess. If they don’t know, ask to see the box of gloves.
Boxes that say latex-free, vinyl, or neoprene are fine. Beware, most eating establishments do not understand the seriousness of latex allergies and may offer responses such as “We use both kinds, our chef will put on non-latex gloves for your order.” This is not good enough because if latex proteins are present in the kitchen, then all the food and surfaces are essentially poisoned. Another response may be, “We only use them for salad prep” or “Only at the sushi bar.” The same rule applies and a latex allergic person cannot eat there.
I don’t worry about utensils in restaurants. Most professional level cookware does not contain cheap soft plastics like latex.
Important to note that some states, some counties, and some towns have passed laws and ordinances banning use of latex in food establishments. Check your state's .gov website.
Nitrile and Vinyl Gloves
Call ahead and ask if the cleaning staff use latex gloves. You wouldn’t want to sleep on a bed full of latex proteins. While you are at it, check the hotel kitchen used for room service. You may need to talk to the concierge and the head of housekeeping.
Going to the Gym
Most gyms I’ve been to actually smell like rubber. That tells you how much latex is present. The grips on most machines are made of latex rubber, the mats on the floor, the floor itself, the treadmills, etc. Non-slip surfaces are most often covered in latex. Even some yoga mats contain latex. Wearing cloth batting gloves may help with touching the individual machines. However, the smell of rubber indicates that there is airborne latex present and an allergic person should proceed with caution.
I’ve accepted that I may never get a brand new car in my lifetime. The new car smell is a combination of off-gassing poisons including latex. I recently rode in a new car and my face immediately started itching and my lips became swollen after a 15 minute ride. This is important to note for rental cars and when carpooling.
Latex is everywhere, especially in public transportation. Most seat cushions are made of a foam that contains latex. This is true for cars, airplanes, and some trains. As long as my skin does not come in contact I tend to be fine as this is not airborne latex. However, my uncle, a retired employee of the National Transportation Safety Board, did some hunting for me and newer airplanes sometimes use latex rubber in the air system hoses. This means that air can be pumped directly through latex tubing for passengers to breathe. My uncle was clear in saying that it is not all planes and varies from model to model. However, there are some people with severe latex allergies who will never fly on a plane again as the risk is too big.
Latex Free Therabands
The dentist is my Kryptonite and not for the usual reasons. Latex can be found in toothbrushes, dental dams, and on the handles of most dental equipment. Some dentists are proudly latex free but most can’t guarantee some level of cross-contamination.
I ask at every doctor’s office if the facility is latex free. Latex is used commonly for gloves, though this policy is changing slowly as more and more medical professionals are developing life-threatening latex allergies. Plastic tubing for fluids can be made of latex. Think about this when getting blood work done. The cuff on the blood pressure meter and the rubber pieces of the equipment can contain latex. Finally, the rubber stopper at the top of syringes used for vaccines can be made of latex. This is often difficult to track but I was able to determine that the flu shots delivered to my county contained a latex stopper and I was not able to get one this year. You have to trace the vaccines back to the manufacturer.
Latex is also used by Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists especially in the form of Thera-band exercise bands. There are latex free alternatives but they are more expensive and in a room where lots of latex proteins have been spraying into the air by many individuals, it is not a matter of simply changing out the band for one person’s session.
A person with a latex allergy should have a neon warning sticker on all medical folders and documents at each doctor’s office. When in doubt, especially when a new nurse comes into the room, I reiterate the severity of my latex allergy. Some people even have medical alert bracelets made stating their latex allergy.
Tips on Living with a Latex Allergy
- Keep a journal. You can record where and when you had reactions to look for commonalities in exposures. I keep a note on my iPhone of where it is safe to eat and places I need to avoid.
- Keep non-latex gloves (vinyl or neoprene) in your car and bag/purse just in case of an emergency.
- Tell people about your allergy so they know what is happening if you have an allergic reaction.
- Train your loved ones and co-workers in how to use an Epi-pen.
- Be planful but not fearful.