Facilities react to growing number of allergies to latex
By Linda L. Mullen
PLYMOUTH — For 17 years, Barbara Strus worked as a nurse’s technician. She loved it so much she voluntarily cross-trained to serve in seven different areas of Pulaski Memorial Hospital in Winamac.
Strus especially liked working with babies. She assisted in deliveries, set up the sterile equipment, and would bathe, cradle and feed infants in the nursery. Strus felt privileged.
But then Strus had to quit the job she loved. She got another one: packing spark plug wires for a local factory.
“I loved my job at the hospital,” Strus said. “It was a big blow to me when I had to get out of the health environment.”
Strus needed to end her career in the health-care field because she developed an allergy to latex, the milky sap from the rubber tree. She could no longer wear latex gloves, handle bandages, or even use a stethoscope, because all were made of latex.
The first medical report of a latex allergy was made in 1979, when a woman in Great Britain reacted to household rubber gloves. About 50 cases were recorded by 1988. In the fall of 1989, the Food and Drug Administration started receiving reports of patients going into anaphylactic shock when a latex-cuffed enema was used. Sixteen patients died.
Anesthesia equipment and intravenous catheters also cause reactions, according to the National Centers for Disease Control. It’s a common allergy for people with a history of early and/or recurrent medical procedures, such as children with spina bifida.
The problem of latex allergies, Strus said, escalated in 1992 when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began advising health-care workers to wear gloves “for just about anything.” Two years prior to that, Strus suspected she had the allergy, but when she started using the gloves all the time, her occasional rash progressed to swollen eyes and respiratory problems.
In 1996, Pulaski hospital officials sent Strus to a specialist in Indianapolis, who advised her to leave her job before it became fatal. They also told her to avoid some everyday objects, like tennis shoes with latex soles, latex balloons, the conveyor belt at the grocery, and even car tires.
Most birth-control condoms and diaphragms are made of latex, too. From 1988 to 1991, the FDA received 44 reports of allergic reactions associated with condom use. For those who are not sensitive, there is no reason to stop using condoms. Latex also is found in underwear elastic, rubber bands, carpet backing, and toys.
Symptoms of the reactions to latex can include skin rash, itching, hives, tears, burning eyes, swollen lips and tongue, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, fainting, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and low or plummeting blood pressure. A shot of epinephrine is often used to counteract shock.
In recent years, all hospitals are scrambling to address this relatively new allergy, which may be escalating since latex has become the number one defense against the HIV virus.
Copyright © 1997 The South Bend Tribune
Reproduced here with permission.