Fifty-five percent of the US population suffer from allergies and over 3 million of those  Americans suffer from a latex allergy. Many people are unaware that they are having an allergic to latex. Partially because they don’t realize they are being exposed through a variety of places such as medical offices, restaurants, cleaning services and so on. Latex gloves leave a residue that results not only by actual contact, but via airborne exposure. This residue can last on surfaces for days.

So for example, if you have a latex allergy and unbeknownst to you a cleaning service utilizing latex gloves cleans your desk, you might very well have an allergic reaction the next day as you handle your stapler! Say you order food that you know is safe for you to eat, but you have a reaction afterwards, it could be the person prepping your meal wore latex gloves! Now start to think of all the scenarios where you see workers wearing rubber gloves and start to calculate your potential exposure. It’s probably more than you realized? It is a fact that continued exposure can lead to an allergy or a worsening of an existing allergy. Latex is everywhere and the allergic have a task on par with peanut allergy sufferers trying to safeguard themselves. What is not needed is confusion. Labeling is crucial for anyone whether it is a special diet to mange a health condition or a life-threatening allergy.

As a latex allergy sufferer myself, I always have to weigh out the risks of where I go and what I do. Painting my bedroom and new office were recently part of that calculation. I have been exposed to paint fumes before and always felt unwell upon extended exposure. The past few times I had paintwork I bought low VOC paint, took allergy pills, kept fans going and windows open. I was lucky and hadn’t had any major reactions that never quite made sense to me because when a latex glove is dangled a few feet from me, my throat starts to swell. However, this past week I had a new reaction. They painted the walls with the low VOC paint I bought. I was irritated, but basically fine until they used the building paint for the trim and ceiling which had strong fumes. This is when the fun began as I started to itch a little and after about twenty minutes my whole back and chest were bright red. The next day most of my body was red and hives here and there. The whites of my eyes would become solid red and feel like a match was put to them. I was extremely agitated, shaky and had lots of aches. Naturally I thought this was due to the latex paint and that my luck with minor reactions had finally caught up with me. I was wrong!

As I said, normally my throat has an anaphylactic reaction when exposed to latex along with rash, hives, etc. I kept finding it strange that my throat didn’t chime in. So now here it was a Friday night, although miserable, I was still all dressed up and ready to attend a Broadway show I had been looking forward to seeing. Since my reactions were pretty severe I had to make an emergency pit stop at my doctors office and still try and make the show. I wasn’t missing that show! He gave me an interesting twist to my allergic mystery: Latex was not my problem this time. “Why?”.. you ask. Latex paint does NOT contain natural latex protein.

“Latex” paint is truly considered acrylic paint and many companies have proposed renaming it as such to avoid confusion for people with latex allergies. Various chemicals and synthetic materials release toxic fumes, which can cause a contact dermatitis, which can be serious. Traces of these volatile compounds can be found in all the body’s organs within 26 SECONDS of contact [direct or airborne]. This is why long-term exposure can have life threatening results even including cancer.

Now, if you have a chemical allergy such as I have had for a long time, than you will want to safeguard yourself when painters come in. Tricky because you don’t want to leave the painter alone in your house. I have had property stolen from one in the past so I tend to stick around. If it is at all possible it is a good idea to have someone stay and keep watch while you remove yourself from the environment. Windows should be open, but if it is raining then you want to have the air conditioner on to assist in curing the paint faster. Once the curing process is complete in a few days and the paint has hardened, it will most likely not emit anymore-harmful fumes. This is a good time to coordinate a vacation when you think about it.

Allergic reactions often lead to detective work because sometimes they occur at the time of exposure, but sometimes reactions are delayed. Again you ask: “Why?” Well, when your immune system encounters an allergen it goes to work to get rid of that bad guy, but if you don’t have a normal functioning immune system this can throw off the consistency of how you will react when exposed. I happen to have an auto-immune disease which means: some days my immune system is protecting me; some days it’s not working; and most days it’s attacking me. Therefore when my system is down or attacking my body the allergen gets the best of me right away. Now here’s the fun part, because allergens can stay in the body a while, if my system suddenly weakens or attacks me and I also have allergen left in my system then I get a delayed allergic reaction. Make sense?

For anyone it is important to know what your reactions are to the different allergens on your list whether they are food, medicine or environmental allergens. This can be valuable information when you and/or your doctor have to do detective work to figure out what’s wrong. Knowing the different ways you can be exposed to your immune system foes is important so you know how best how to prevent exposure. When you go to a food establishment make sure they know if you have, for example, a latex allergy and request that they handle your food with latex-free gloves. If they do not have plastic gloves, perhaps it is a place you may wish to avoid. As for paint, I just learned today that Valspar Paint has released Valspar Plus, the first paint certified asthma & allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The key is information so you know how to protect yourself!