Do You Know What You’re Allergic To?

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Let’s say on a typical morning, you take a shower while standing on a non-skid bath mat. You may shave with a disposable razor with a “no-slip” grip. You accidentally cut your finger on the razor so when you get out of the shower, you apply a Band-aid. You dress in clothing with elastic. If you’re a woman, you may apply your foundation with a make-up sponge. As you’re heading out the door to work, you see the stack of bills you meant to drop off at the post office. You lick the envelopes and stamps, and apply a rubber band so you don’t lose any of the envelopes in the wind. As you’re driving to work, you notice some foam sticking out from the passenger’s seat and make a mental note that the seat needs to be fixed.

What did you contact with?

OK—here’s the question. During this typical morning, how many times did you have contact with a product containing natural rubber latex (NRL)? Here are the answers:
1. non-skid bath mat
2. rubber, no-slip grip on razor
3. Band-aid (can be in Band-aid and in packaging)
4. elastic in clothing
5. foam make-up sponge
6. envelope and stamp glue
7. rubber band
8. foam rubber in car seat (the steering wheel and floor mats are also potential sources)

The Answer

That’s eight, just in your morning alone. Are you surprised? Not all individuals with a NRL allergy will have an allergic reaction to all of these things. In fact, very few will react to all of the items mentioned above. Items that are “solid” and which don’t shed powder tend to not cause reactions to the degree that items such as balloons, condoms, and NRL gloves do. The difference is in how the product is made. NRL balloons, gloves, and condoms are made by dipping a form into the latex, which allows more of the latex protein to be retained. The powder added to remove the product from the form acts as a carrier for the latex proteins, and can hang in the air for up to 12 hours after the item was used. (Even “nonpowdered” gloves contain a small amount of powder, otherwise the gloves couldn’t be separated from the form they were made with.)

Also, at the time of this writing, 56 different allergenic proteins have been found in NRL. The specific protein(s) that each individual is allergic to seems to depend on how he or she was exposed (skin, respiratory, or mucous membranes). Thus each person may react differently to the same item containing NRL proteins: one person may not react at all while another might stop breathing. This alone makes it imperative that if you have a NRL allergy, you know which items you react to and what type of reaction you have. Granted, this knowledge usually comes about through trial and error, which is why you should always carry your Epi-pen, a fast-acting inhaler, and an oral antihistamine (i.e., Benedryl) with you.