When Beth Redpath stepped out of her car outside her home she instantly felt the familiar prickle of an allergic reaction beginning in her throat. ‘My breathing became tight and shallow and a red rash started to appear on my throat,’ recalls Beth. ‘Within minutes I was having a full-blown anaphylactic reaction – wheezing , gasping for breath and erupting in hives. It was terrifying.’
Luckily, Beth’s mother was on hand to call 999 and inject her with adrenaline – but the attack was one of her worst, and in the ambulance Beth’s mother feared her 28-year-old daughter would die. This attack was triggered by latex in freshly laid tarmac on the pavement outside her drive, which she had inhaled after it became airborne, but previous episodes have been triggered by everything from preservatives in champagne corks, rubber-backed carpets, medical gloves and elastic bands. She has also developed a nightmarish cross reactivity to some fruits and vegetables which contain proteins similar to those in latex – so now some foods trigger attacks too.
The road works episode is the latest in 27 emergency hospital admissions Beth, a marketing manager from Surrey, has had to endure in the last 18 months because of her allergy to latex – a protein found in rubber sap, used in countless everyday products from medical and cleaning rubber gloves, car tyres and airbags, to condoms, elastic bands, office equipment and even champagne corks, but also balloons, paints and tarmac.
You can read Beth’s full story here in today’s Daily Mail Good Health section http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2353187/The-hidden-epidemic-allergy-affects-thousands-triggered-roadworks.html
CAPTION: Latex rubber sap is a natural product used in thousands of everyday items and difficult to avoid
Beth wanted to do a story in a national newspaper about her latex allergy because she is frustrated at the lack of awareness surrounding the condition. She told me: ‘Everybody thinks the latex allergy problem has gone away because most NHS hospitals now use either latex-free or low protein gloves – but there are still hundreds of thousands of people who remain sensitised to latex and there are just so many products containing latex in everyday use that it is increasingly difficult to avoid.
‘For instance, I’ve even walked into a hospital foyer and come across a charity handing out latex balloons – triggering an attack. The same thing happened at trade exhibition I attended recently. Despite the organisers assuring me that there would be no balloons at the event, a supplier brought them along and decorated stalls with them. The same thing has happened to me in restaurants too. I can’t even go to a supermarket without wearing a mask because there is a risk food may have been contaminated with latex in a processing plant or factory. I can’t live a normal life.’CAPTION: LATEX GLOVES: The HIV/ Aids epidemic in the 1980s and early ’90s triggered an upsurge in latex allergy cases
Whilst some people with latex allergy will suffer nothing more than an itchy rash when they encounter latex gloves (known as a type IV sensitivity), some people (like Beth) will go onto develop a more severe type 1 allergy which produces hay fever type symptoms and hives and can result in a full-blown anaphylactic reaction. Beth developed a mild type IV sensitivity to latex at 16 when she started using latex gloves during her science A levels studies but this turned into a type 1 sensitivity at 21 and 18 months ago she had her first anaphylactic reaction.
Latex is increasingly hard to avoid and although many hospital either use latex-free or low-protein, hundreds of thousands of people remain sensitised to it and are theoretically at risk of developing a type 1 allergy and having an anaphylactic reaction.
< CAPTION> Some wine corks may contains preservatives containing latex
The latex allergy problem clearly hasn’t gone away – although if you talk to some people you’ll get the impression that particular health problem is done and dusted and has all been solved by medical staff wearing latex free gloves etc. For latex allergy sufferers though the problem is still very real: another women I interviewed for the Daily Mail piece has had so many anaphylactic attacks in the last 17 years that she barely leaves the house unless a relative trained to use an EpiPen can accompany her.
Latex balloons appear to be the biggest bugbear as they can literally pop up from nowhere and cause anaphylactic attacks. So next time you’re having a party or organising promotional activities at work, spare a thought for Beth Redpath and think twice about the latex balloons (or buy foil ones instead). … for some, the consequences could be life threatening.
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P.S. Here’s a link to another article I’ve written about allergies http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2242522/Did-eating-chicken-tikka-deadly-allergy.html