“Killer” balloons – the truth about living with latex allergy

shutterstock_99203546  < CAPTION> Everyone loves balloons – but for latex allergy sufferers they can be deadly

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

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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.’shutterstock_125575664CAPTION: 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.

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< 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.

For more information go to

www.anaphylaxis.org.uk      

www.lasg.org.uk

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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