I thought it was time to focus once again on the emotional aspects of living with a latex allergy. Like it or not, a diagnosis of latex allergy means major lifestyle changes. The first reaction to the diagnosis may very well be denial. (At least, that was my first reaction!) While protective to the psyche, it’s dangerous to the body, since the allergy continues to get worse with every exposure. So…is there life after latex allergy?
The first hurdle is often facing disbelief from family, friends, and coworkers. Sometimes, you may feel like no one believes you. Incidentally, this doesn’t help you overcome your own denial either! Latex allergy has come a long way in being taken seriously since the early 1990’s, but there are still a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it. The other contributing factor is that there are at least 56 different proteins in latex that cause reactions. This means that people with the allergy may react very differently from each other.
The next hurdle is avoiding the 40,000 different items that contain latex. Granted, only a few of these will actually cause a reaction in most people with the allergy, but the challenge is in identifying which ones. For those with cross-reactions to foods such as bananas, kiwi, and avocado, the challenge is even greater.. This usually means a lot of education and patient reminders to family and friends. (I haven’t reacted to bananas as far as I can tell, but I try to avoid them just because of the high incidence of cross-reactivity. My family still regularly offers them to me, just because they forget!) The enormous amount of potential allergens may also cause others to not take you seriously. Many of the items that contain natural rubber latex are used routinely in everyday life, and may be overlooked as a source of the allergen.
If you’ve developed chronic asthma from your latex allergy, you have two chronic illnesses to contend with! All of a sudden, you might have multiple new medications to take, you might have to make a drastic career change, and your activity might be limited because of asthma. (And you wondered why you were feeling stressed!?)
So, how does one handle all these life changes, yet remain sane and functional? My best advice is to join a local support group. Most states have latex allergy support groups.
Even if there isn’t a group in your area, you can still become a member of a national group (for example, the American Latex Allergy Association-check out their website in my list of links), which entitles you to receive research and legislative updates, and which gives you a contact for answering questions. My life changed for the better on the day that I first talked with a representative from my local group. She affirmed everything I had been experiencing. I wasn’t crazy after all! I remember the wonderful sense of relief that I wasn’t alone anymore, and that others had already been through it and could give me advice. If there isn’t a latex allergy group near you, then I suggest finding a group that deals with chronic illnesses, or asthma if you have it. Anything that allows you to meet others who are going through something similar will be beneficial.