a red latex balloon

Q. Can you help me with a medical mystery? I believe I am allergic to latex. I had a reaction when latex balloons were carried by my desk and I ended up in the ER.

My primary care doctor thinks I have classic symptoms of an allergy to latex. Dermatologists and allergy specialists I have consulted seem hesitant to confirm this diagnosis, however. Apparently the FDA has not approved a latex skin test. Blood tests frequently give false negative results.

Where can I go to get the documentation that is being required by my employer? I work in public health, where I am exposed to latex daily. I worry about another potentially life-threatening reaction.

A. Latex is derived from rubber trees and contains proteins that can be sensitizing. Certain people, especially those who have had frequent occupational exposure to latex, may develop symptoms such as rash, sneezing, itchy eyes or even hives, difficulty breathing and dangerously low blood pressure.

Sadly, there is no completely reliable test for latex allergy, though a symptom questionnaire can be a valuable diagnostic tool (Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Feb. 2012; Nov. 2012). Exposure to latex during sex (condoms), dental procedures or surgery could trigger a dangerous reaction.

People with latex allergies also need to be especially careful around other sources of latex (such as rubber dish gloves, and yes, even balloons).

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  1. Mark

    Nearly lost my younger brother of 4 years during the 1970’s. Left over night in his cot, with a few inflated balloons from a birthday event, the latex fumes are quite volatile and filled his room, he nearly choked to death as his lungs reacted in shock, and closed down.

    Removed from the toxic room, revived just in time! Never bring balloons into a child’s room, or hospitals as well, “nasty”.

  2. LGF

    Then you must have been using latex-free gloves this whole time. I’m in the dental field, and I can wear latex gloves, but not band-aids. The adhesive gives me contact dermatitis.

    • Hafthor

      There is actually a bigger chance he has been using Latex gloves than not.

      Hyper-allergy to latex is very real and people working in the health sector are in a high-risk group of getting it. In about 2% of cases it can be deadly and balloons have the highest chemical concentration of the active protein people with the allergy react to. About 1000 times more potent than the gloves. They also contain particles inside the balloon itself that can get air born when a balloon bursts and easily send one to the ER.

      It’s called “Latex Allergy type 1” and it’s a nasty diagnose to get. There are over 50 cross reactive allergies that come with it and a lot of things you have to be aware of.

      This is no joke, balloons can be deadly. Simple as that.

  3. YEE

    Thank you CB for the very clear and serious reply. I hope everyone will take it to heart whether they have Sensitivity Immune Response or not as it could save a life.

  4. RJZ

    I just recently figured out that my “allergy” to bandaids was to latex when I bought some latex-free ones and had no redness or itching around the perimeter of the bandaid. I have been a nurse for 40 years.

  5. CB

    After 20 years in the hospital environment, I was diagnosed with a Type 1 Latex Allergy or Immediate Sensitivity Immune Response. I carry an EPI-pen and Benadryl and avoid any and all latex exposures.
    There is no skin test available in the United States. Diagnosis involves a thorough history of childhood illnesses, allergies and surgeries along with current diagnoses, allergies and medications. History of latex exposure during childhood is important as well as exposure during education and employment. A licensed Allergist in your area is the best place to get an unbiased diagnosis.
    Reactions vary from individual to individual. Red irritated skin can occur with or without swelling when there is physical contact. Stomach upset and changes in bowel patterns can be related to food interactions; there is a list of six foods to avoid: Bananas, Kiwi, Papaya, Potatoes(raw), Chestnuts, and Mangos. Once ingested, the proteins in these foods can cause the body to react as if they were latex. Itchy and/or red eyes, sneezing, persistent coughing or wheezing can signal a more serious reaction and often occur when exposed to airborn latex (when powdered latex gloves are removed).
    There is no cure for Latex Allergy; there is only treatment of symptoms and avoidance of the allergen. Each exposure increases the risk of anaphylaxis. Please, notify all of your healthcare providers (doctors, dentists, clinics and veterinarians too) of your sensitivity so they can assist you with safe care and help you to obtain appropriate treatment.

  6. YEE

    I am also sensitive to rubber/latex. This is not specifically an allergy it is a Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS for short).
    MCS cannot be treated in the same way that an allergy can. Our only defense is to stay away from the substance that causes our symptoms or they will continue to be worse after each exposure and your defenses can also break down and you will have more and more substances that are dangerous to you.
    Many Drs. suggest that MCS is a mental illness – it is not. Do some searches on this and stay away from anything that causes your body distress or you may have to become a veritable recluse, as I have.

  7. stellabrown

    My daughter has been hospitalized over 30 times since she was born. She and I noticed a definite rash when latex bandages were used. It wasn’t until recent years that the nurses believed her and it was an ongoing battle to get them to use non latex gloves, bandages etc. Now it seems that they have caught on, but we still have to watch. You are not alone, and people should be especially careful during medical procedures.

  8. dp

    Fifteen years ago I developed a latex allergy. As a nurse, There are lots of things with rubber, The b/p machine, gloves, pt. equipment, even pens! I had to make drawstring underwear to avoid the rubber waist band. If I forgot and accidently picked up a rubber covered pen, my palm would turn bright red, swell, itch and be very painful. Gave away all clothes containing latex.
    A nurse friend, feeling sorry for my plight, subscribed to the Latex Allergy monthly news letter for me. One of the articles saved me from this life of restriction. It said, “If one has a CONTACT form of latex allergy, Do Not Eat mangos, papyas or SOYBEANS! I was eating a cup of partially cooked soybeans everyday trying to get estrogens. I didn’t know soybeans must be thoroughly cooked or they can be toxic. Turns out that these foods all have the same complex protein make-up. I stopped the soybeans and two weeks later I accidently picked up a rubberized pen, threw it down and waited for the swelling to begin. That’s when I knew it was over.
    To this day I can’t eat soy. If I do, roseaca breaks out on my face. If one is allergic to rubber, stay away from soy, and subscribe to the latex allergy news letter. I got my life back thanks to my friend’s intervention.

  9. Carrol B

    For all allergies there is a treatment by a network of doctors in this
    country who have been trained under a program called [N.A.E.T.].
    Website–www.naet.com I have been successfully treated for many allergies.
    That is to say that for every allergy detected the treatment was effective.

  10. L. A.

    Wow, I’m sorry you have this, but misery loves company??? I’m not as sensitive as you – yet, but I’ve noticed the same thing when our children were small and we’d get them a balloon. It got to the point where I have to have it in the back of the suv with the hind windows open or it couldn’t go along with me in the vehicle. I found I couldn’t serve very well at our churches vacation bible school. They had arches of balloons as decorations and I could feel the tightness in my throat and sinuses going crazy. It wasn’t until later that my dental hygentist told me how life threateningg this could be.
    She had to have a patient who wasn’t aware they had a latex allergy, picked up by ambulance and taken to the ER. I can’t believe your workplace demands more “evidence” than your unscheduled hospital visit. I think I’d be checking with my Dr. to see if carrying some benedryl or an epi-pen would be wise. Stay careful….

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