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Is It Time to Rethink How We Handle Latex Allergies?

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

What we learned from the near-fatal latex allergy incident at an Adele concert

A few weeks ago, an Australian woman almost died at an Adele concert after having a serious allergic reaction to latex powder on balloons dropped on the audience during the show.

Pooja Newman, who went into anaphylactic shock when the balloons were released, told Yahoo News: “I felt my lips swelling and couldn’t breathe, I knew I was in trouble.”

This eye-opening incident raised several questions about latex allergies, including whether more precautions should be taken to prevent future situations like the one in Australia. Is latex the new peanuts — something that should be avoided in public situations?

Here’s what you need to know.

What causes latex allergies?

According to Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network, latex allergies are usually caused by repeat exposure to the material.

This can happen in different ways, including working — or spending a lot of time — in medical facilities, as well as frequent use of products containing latex. This includes many types of rubbers, balloons, condoms and several types of plastics, Parikh told SheKnows.

More: What Causes Nasal Allergies?

“The more you’re exposed, you’re at higher risk for developing it too,” she explained. “Incidents of latex allergies [are] much higher in health care workers as opposed to [the] general population.”

Where are some unexpected triggers of latex allergies?

According to Parikh, certain shoes may have latex in the soles. In fact, she has treated a patient who had an allergic reaction to rubber flip-flops. Another common but frequently overlooked cause is adhesives.

Latex allergies are triggered by both contact and inhalation. Some people are so sensitive that breathing it in can trigger a reaction.

What about condoms?

Luckily for those with allergies, there are latex-free condoms on the market. When you’re having the “how will we have safer sex?” conversation with a new partner, it’s a good idea to ask whether they have latex allergies and plan accordingly. If you’re someone with latex allergies, investing in and carrying some latex-free condoms is your best bet.

More: The Best Condoms for Latex-Sensitive Ladies

Are there other latex-free products?

Increased awareness of latex allergies — especially in medical facilities — has resulted in an increase in the use of latex-free products like rubber gloves, Parikh said. Outside of medical facilities, these are also frequently found in hair and nail salons, the restaurant industry and cleaning/maintenance services.

What does a latex allergic reaction look like?

According to Parikh, like any allergic reaction, the symptoms can range from mild to very severe. Mild symptoms can include itching or a rash. More severe symptoms can be full-blown anaphylactic shock. This would look similar to what would happen if someone ate a food they were allergic to — there would likely be a rash in addition to difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. There are also a range of symptoms in the middle, including sneezing and coughing.

When should you get tested?

If you notice rashes or a more severe reaction around things that contain latex, you should be seen by a doctor and be tested, Parikh said.

Getting tested is important because you should know if it’s a latex you’re reacting to so you know what to avoid and you can be prepared and armed with the appropriate emergency medications, she added.

Are latex allergies the new peanut allergies?

Given the life-threatening reaction the woman at the Adele concert had to balloons raises the question of whether we are at the point of trying to eliminate using latex as part of a public health initiative.

“I don’t know if we’re quite there yet,” Parikh said. “Luckily, latex allergy is a little rarer than peanut allergy and less prevalent. It’s less frequent than accidental ingestion of peanuts. I don’t think, widespread, it needs to be latex-free just yet.”

Most hospitals and medical offices are currently latex-free, she added.

More: Should Ovaries Be Removed During a Hysterectomy?

What should you do if you have a latex allergy?

Parikh’s main advice is to try to avoid it as much as possible.

“This is easier to do within your own home or if you know you’re going to a dentist or medical facility where there might be latex,” she said.

In unknown situations where you aren’t sure if you will encounter latex, Parikh suggested bringing along all necessary medications. She also advised people with allergies to speak with their doctor about an emergency action plan and wearing a medic alert bracelet if their allergy is severe.

“If you know you have a latex allergy, be empowered not only to have all the appropriate medication, but be proactive calling places ahead to see what you can avoid, predict and control,” she said. “As much as you can be prepared ahead of time, the better.”

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