What is latex?
Latex is another name for natural rubber. It's found in many objects, including rubber bands, balloons, condoms, and medical equipment. For example, the gloves your health care provider wears may be made of latex.
What is a latex allergy?
If you're allergic to latex, you may have mild symptoms at first. But your symptoms will become worse
every time you have contact with latex. Your skin may itch and you may notice hives (red, raised blotches). Seconds, minutes, or hours after contact with latex, your eyes may become watery, your nose may run, and your throat may itch. You may have trouble breathing, your lips and throat may swell, and your heart may pound.
Because these symptoms are serious, and may even cause death, it's important that you call 911 for help right away.
Why am I allergic to latex?
Like allergies to bee stings or peanut butter, latex allergies develop with repeated contact. The more contact you have with latex, especially latex gloves, the more likely that you'll become allergic to it.
You're also more likely to become allergic to latex if you're already allergic to other things; for example, ragweed. If you're allergic to latex, you may also be allergic to certain foods, such as avocados, bananas, chestnuts, and kiwis. Similarly, if you're allergic to these foods, you may also be allergic to latex.
How will my health care provider know I have a latex allergy?
First, she'll ask you questions about your health, including allergic reactions you've had in the past. Answer all her questions carefully, even if the answers don't seem important. Many people have a latex allergy without knowing it. For example, if your lips ever swelled when you went to the dentist or after you blew up a balloon, you may have been having a reaction to latex.
Your health care provider may also order blood and skin tests to identify your allergy, but your answers to her questions give her the best clues.
How will my latex allergy be treated?
The only way to keep a latex allergy from getting worse is to avoid any contact with latex (see What Should I Avoid?). If you have an itchy rash, your health care provider can give you medicine that will make you feel better, such as the liquid antihistamine diphenhydramine HCl (Benadryl), but this won't cure the allergy. If you've had symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, such as wheezing or a very fast heartbeat, your health care provider will order an Epi-Pen for you. You inject medicine in the Epi-Pen into your leg to stop the allergic reaction.
How can I prevent latex allergy reactions?
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from a serious reaction.
* Tell all your health care providers, including your dentist, about your allergy to latex. Write a letter or call the director of your hospital's emergency department and your local ambulance service, letting them know that you're allergic to latex and that they must use nonlatex gloves and equipment when they treat you.
* Call ahead. Because some restaurant workers wear latex gloves when preparing food, call ahead of time to restaurants where you plan to eat. Ask that they prepare your food without latex gloves; you could have a serious reaction even from secondhand contact with latex.
* Keep medicine handy. If your health care provider gives you an Epi-Pen or other medicine, carry it with you at all times. As directed, use it as soon as you think you may be having a reaction to keep the reaction from getting worse. If you have problems breathing or other serious symptoms, use your Epi-Pen and immediately call 911 for help.
This patient-education guide has been adapted for the Sth-grade level using the Flesch-Kincaid and SMOG formulas. It may be photocopied for clinical use or adapted to meet your facility's requirements. Selected references are available upon request. For more tips on writing education guides, see the first article in this series: "Writing Easy-to-Read Teaching Aids" (March 2002).
Special thanks to Tracy Kane, MEd, patient-education coordinator, Albert Einstein Heath Care Network, Philadelphia, Pa.
BY GAIL LENEHAN, RN, END, FAAN Member, Massachusetts Nurses Association Congress
on Occupational Health and Safety, Boston, Mass.
Copyright Springhouse Corporation Jun 2003
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved