All About Latex Allergies

The other day I was at the dentist when I started to notice that my lips were beginning to itch and my nostrils were burning. I took a deep breath and the smell of rubber was unmistakeable. I raised my hand to get my doctor’s attention and asked, “Are those gloves latex?” He paused briefly and looked at the chart remarking, “Oh, you did check the latex allergy box.”

I was more than a little annoyed and my clinic professional voice came out, “It really is fundamental that you consult a patient’s chart before beginning any procedure.” He issued a rather disturbing response:

“Well, most people aren’t *that* allergic.”

That was the wrong thing for any medical professional to say. But why is that?

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No more gas masks for me! An early modeling shot from 2008, photo by Sleek Images

*********

A “latex allergy” is a broad term that includes everything from a full blown immune response that can result in anaphylactic shock for some people as well as well as irritant contact dermatitis. The good news is that most people with latex sensitives probably won’t need an epinephrine/adrenaline right then and there. The bad news is that latex reactions do tend to worsen over time.

I was not born with any reaction to latex nor is this a known genetic trait in my family. Exposure is a major component of a latex sensitivity. I had the great honor of being a direct healthcare provider for a very long time (7+ years). I administered HIV tests and handled blood so I spent a lot of time wearing latex gloves. I also did a fair amount of latex modeling and I used sex toys that were rubber based. I was also a condom fascist with a very slutty sex life. Part of being an HIV test counselor at the dawn of my sex life meant that it was really easy for me to maintain an unflappable boundary about condoms. I might have found myself sleeping with someone who talked me into it rather than eliciting desire from me but anyone trying to come between me an my latex condom found the doorstep very quickly.

Approximately <a href=”http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-135/”>4-17% of healthcare workers</a> will develop a latex sensitivity over time and some will go on to develop the most extreme forms. There are no numbers for sex workers or latex models but as an anecdote, I’ve spoken to more than a few sex workers who have developed latex reactions. The individuals who work in the rubber industry harvesting and processing rubber also have high numbers of reactions. For some people, this can mean losing their vocation. A healthcare worker who develops a Type I allergy to rubber will probably not be able to work inside of a hospital or clinic because of the sheer abundance of rubber/latex. The same can be said of a sex worker who can no longer attend fetish events because of the popularity of rubber/latex in fashion and implements.

The majority of children with Spina Bifida will also have an allergy to latex and individuals who had multiple surgeries in early childhood are also at a high risk because of the latex contact to their internal organs.

I was one of those unlucky healthcare workers. At first I noticed that my hands were getting more itchy and sweaty under my gloves but nothing severe was happening so I disregarded what I felt. It wasn’t really so bad on my hands though I did notice that my hands felt ‘off’ no matter how many times I washed them. Then, sex started to be increasingly uncomfortable. I was wayyyyy more chafed after sex and I started to notice redness that lasted for longer periods of time around my penetrated holes. It wasn’t until the day when my partner inserted a much beloved inflatable dildo into my pussy and I reacted as though it were a red hot poker. It was clear that something was amiss.

I have a form of latex sensitivity known as allergic contact dermatitis. While I do experience a pretty immediate reaction to rubber when it gets into my more intimate holes, for the most part my exposure to latex will be like exposure to poison oak or poison sumac. When I wear bandaids with latex, I will have a bright red rash in the shape of a bandaid underneath it that will eventually peel off in flakes like a sunburn.

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I’ll never do that again! (You know, wear a rubber corset around my waist.) Photo by Sleek Images, Folsom St. Fair 2008

Not just bandaids! Latex is in a TON of different products, actually. For a latex sensitive person who is kinky, this is a real pain in the ass. Unless an adhesive states otherwise, it probably has latex. There is no known treatment for latex sensitivities other than to avoid latex, especially since the science indicates that the allergy **will worsen over time**. <a href=”http://www.aafp.org/afp/1998/0101/p93.html”>Some objects that may contain latex/rubber include</a>:

*Shoe soles
*Duct tape, electrical tape, first aid tape
*Elastic bands
*Balloons
*Sports balls
*Pacifiers
*Carpet backing
*Paints
*Erasers
*Rubber bands
*Tubing (Including that on stethoscopes or blood pressure cuffs)
*Koosh balls
*Rubber duckies
*Dishwashing gloves
*Catheters
*Face masks
*Electrode pads
*Computer mouse pads
*Diapers
*Tool handles
*Some buttons on electronic equipment
*Inflatable toys
*Some metal collars have rubber linings
*”Natural” mattresses
*Some fruits contain latex properties and might set off a latex immune reaction such as: banana, pineapple, avocado, chestnuts, kiwis, mangoes, soy, strawberries, passionfruit, or figs. (In fact, many people may have noticed a sticky milky secretion from figs. This looks like what the rubber tree excretes in its rawest form that will be processed into latex or rubber.)
*MUCH, MUCH, MORE!

So what’s a kinky girl to do? Well, there are a lot of alternatives to rubber you can seek out:
*Silicone is totally latex free
*Neoprene, elastane, and polyisoprene are **synthetic** rubbers that do not contain natural rubber proteins. Enjoy!
*Guayule rubber does not come from the predominant rubber tree, the Hevea. You would have to specifically seek this out as an alternative.

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I’ll never again smell the inside of a rubber gas mask. Photo by Sleek Images

Some things you can do to reduce the irritation of rubber if you must come into contact with it (for those with contact dermatitis only):

*Soak the object in warm for several minutes and then scrub it thoroughly.
*Remember how oil and condoms don’t mix? In some of my international travels, I have had to receive healthcare where non-latex gloves were not available. Coating my skin in vaseline or an oil helped immensely specifically because oil is a rubber antagonist.
*Discontinue contact IMMEDIATELY if you start to experience symptoms of hay fever, runny eyes, or any signs of asthma. Depending on severity, a benadryl may help alleviate symptoms.
*Keep your contact time as brief as possible, wash off the area with warm soap and water, consider applying oil to the area.
*If someone isn’t breathing, call 9-1-1.

There is a difference between those of us who have a non-immune reaction and those that do. However, the risk of developing an immune reaction looms over my head. To reduce that risk, I avoid contact with rubber. This means that I will totally avoid parties where a high number of participants are wearing latex or rubber. As the number of people with latex allergies rises (due to the fact that we are all increasingly being exposed to latex from consumer products) it’s likely that in the future, “rubber free” play nights might become common.

I also dream of a day when someone starts making clothing out of synthetic latex for me to wear. Call me! I’ll model what you make and even suspend my rate just for the chance to be wrapped in that wonderful stretchy tightness once again.

And most of all, if your *doctor* tells you that contact isn’t a big deal, GIVE THEM HELL.

More links:

<a href=”https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/latexallergy/”>OSHA</a&gt;

<a href=”http://www.allergyfoundation.ca/index.php?page=64″>Allergy Foundation</a>

<a href=”http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-135/”>CDC</a&gt;

<a href=”http://www.aafp.org/afp/1998/0101/p93.html”>AAFP</a&gt;

6 Comments

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6 responses to “All About Latex Allergies

  1. Michelle

    Thank you for this!! I developed a latex allergy like yours in my mid twenties, a little earlier than you did, but it started while I was still in Santa Cruz. The smell also makes me throw up though I suspect that’s a psychological thing. It’s such a pain in the butt trying to avoid it.

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  3. I didn’t realize I had a latex sensitivity until I started having sex and began to regularly handle latex condoms. I developed a rash after my third or fourth time having sex, so I went straight to the doctor. The doctor made me strip down and happened noticed some bruises that I acquired during my first foray into BDSM. She suddenly became very concerned that my boyfriend was abusing me (he wasn’t) and I had to explain that it was from rough sex. English wasn’t her first language either, so it took awhile to convey that it was consensual. Now I know the doctor was just doing her job, but keep in mind that I was a teenager who *just* started having sex. It was so mortifying.

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