Friday, April 29, 2011

What is a Latex Allergy: Part Two- Latex and Food (Latex-Fruit Syndrome)

(In my best announcer voice) Welcome to What is a Latex Allergy, Part Two, Latex and Food!

I wrote in Defining a Latex Allergy: Part One about places and things that contain latex, but as I’ve mentioned before, a latex allergy is two-fold, the second part involving a cross-reactive relationship with food. This cross-reactive relationship is often called 'latex-fruit syndrome.'

The science behind all this gets wordy and complicated, and is described well here. Put simply—some foods share a structural similarity with one or many of the latex proteins. Because of this, someone with a moderate to server latex allergy will react to a number of foods. This reaction can range from gastrointestinal discomfort to hives and swelling to anaphylaxis. Because there is still so much research to be done on latex allergies, and so much going on currently, the list of foods differs slightly depending on the source of the list.

Foods are classified by their degree of similarity to latex (the degree of prevalence of the latex/latex similar proteins). The following list is from the American Latex Allergy Association (ALAA):

Degree of Association or Prevalence:

High (4)

Moderate (7)

Low or undetermined (33)
Pear, Mango, Sweet Pepper,
Peach, Rye, Cayenne Pepper,
Plum, Wheat, Shellfish,
Cherry, Hazelnut, Sunflower Seed,
Pineapple, Walnut, Citrus Fruits,
Strawberry, Soybean, Coconut,
Fig, Peanut, Chick Pea,
Grape, Buckwheat, Castor Bean,
Apricot, Dill, Lychee,
Passion Fruit, Oregano, Zucchini,
Nectarine, Sage, Persimmon

Now—let’s make things even more complicated. Because different people react to different proteins in latex, which foods someone with a latex allergy will react to differs by individual. Furthermore, sometimes reactions occur when a certain combination of foods is consumed even though, individually, the foods do not cause a reaction.

As I’ve stated before, everyone’s allergy and reactions are different, so for now I’m going to talk about the latex cross reactions with food as they apply to my particular situation.

Since the onset of my latex allergy, there are some foods I cannot eat or even allow to touch my food—those are pineapple, strawberries, kiwi and citrus fruits. Pineapple is the only food to ever cause me to have shortness of breath, but many have caused my face to swell and some serious gastrointestinal distress. There are more that I cannot eat, but I can pick them out of my food and I can handle/clean/prepare them without a problem. And there are others, including apples, chick peas and peanuts that I don’t react to at all.

The best description of allergies I’ve ever gotten was from an allergist that described allergic responses as being like a big bowl. When the bowl is empty, you can drip in it five, ten or even a hundred times and nothing will happen. But, when the bowl is full, one drip will send it overflowing, and then you have to drain the bowl before you can add to it again.This is very much the case for me and my reactions to food. Some days I can get away with eating any number of things off the list above, and others they will immediately cause a problem. The problem is this: there is no way of knowing what drip is going to overflow the bowl. So, the best plan is to avoid foods I know cause problems at all times, even when I really want to cheat and eat them. Also, as I’ve discovered, you never really know when one of these foods might trigger for the first time. I had never had a problem with zucchini until all of the sudden I had a sever reaction.

EVEN MORE FUN--- the metaphorical ‘allergy bowl’ is not exclusive to one allergy. It’s not like you get a separate bowl for a pollen allergy and a peanut allergy and a whatever allergy; they all drip in one place. For me, this has meant that allergies I had prior to developing the latex allergy have become more severe. Since I was a kid, I’ve had allergies to dust, mold, ragweed, cats and some medications. They were a problem when I was a little girl, but were not very prominent through my teens/early 20s. Now, because latex is so common in everyday life and ‘drips into the bowl’ daily, I react to dust, cats and mold with far more severity. Mold has also added to the food allergy list, as it is prominent in some cheeses, red-wine, beer, vinegar, condiments, and a number of other foods.

What has helped me navigate the food allergens has been a combination of writing down what I eat so I have a reference point if/when I react, and talking to others. Many allergies, including latex, can be genetic. Or, in my case, the predisposition to the allergy can be genetic—there are members of my family that exhibit some traits of the allergy, but I’m the first (that we know of) lucky girl to trigger the full-blown allergy. For example—my mom is allergic to strawberries and has, over the past several years, developed reactions to a few other latex-related fruits. We were discussing this at a family function and suddenly, it seemed everyone had a random fruit to add, all of which are in the same category. This has helped us all know what we may have difficulty with in the future.

Talking also helped me discover things that I didn’t know were allergic and have just always assumed were normal—like, I guess I’ve always had a problem with pineapple and strawberries and I didn’t really know it. I made some comment to friend one night about how I don’t really miss pineapple or strawberries because they make your mouth hurt when you eat them. I thought this was normal—I chalked it up to the acidity of the fruit. It wasn’t until they all started at me funny that I realized it wasn’t.

One thing that I’ve learned from all this is that it’s important to determine why you don’t like something when you eat it. I’ve never liked vinegar or condiments, which my doctors now attribute to a natural defense mechanism in my body. I’ve naturally been averted to some foods that are now serious problems for me; I just didn’t always recognize the signs. In fact, in the few months leading up to the full onset of my latex allergy, I was practically living on Rolaids for a constantly upset stomach, which I attributed to stress from my job. It turns out I was just eating a high percentage of foods that I didn’t know I was allergic to, yet. I think this is most relevant when dealing with kids and food allergies and I urge parents to talk to your kids about the foods they don’t like. Sure, getting a ‘real’ answer from a kid as to why they hate spinach might be difficult, but I believe that starting the dialogue is important. If your kid tells you that something makes their tummy hurt, take them seriously. As adults we sometimes assume that kids are scamming their way out of eating healthy things, when, in reality, some of them may be trying to let us know that something is wrong.

Helpful tips for I've picked up along the way:

- If you have kids, watch them for reactions to food. This could be a gastrointestinal reaction, hives/skip reactions or something as simple as redness around the lips and face. A sever reaction is easy to spot, but a less sever reaction may not be as obvious. As stated above, have a dialogue with your kids about what they like and don't like and why.

-Don't be afraid to feed someone with a food allergy.If you want to have someone with a food allergy over for a meal, don't be afraid! It is a good precaution to ask whoever it is if there is anything they absolutely cannot have near their food. If your guest offers to bring a dish, please allow them to do so, even if you have the meal under control. Often, if I'm going to someone's home, I'll offer to bring a dish so that I'm sure there is something I can eat without being totally rude. Don't be offended if your guest declines to eat something or asks for exact ingredients; he/she isn't trying to be rude, it's most likely and attempt to avoid a problem!

-Don't be afraid to ask questions. This goes for people with allergies and those without, alike! If you have allergies, do not be afraid to ask what ingredients are in food, whether it is at friend's house, a party, or in a restaurant. I often phrase my question like, "I have sever allergies, can you please let me know the full list of ingredients in this?" It is rarely a problem and, as long as you do it nicely, most waiter/waitresses are happy to help. If you don't have allergies, don't be afraid to ask questions of your friends that do. Most of us will never be offended and are happy to help explain why we can/cannot eat certain things. We appreciate that you want to know and that you are trying to feed us without killing us.

- Chain Restaurants May Not Be Your Friend: There are a number of chain restaurants that have their food pre-prepared. It arrives to the restaurant already ready to cook, and often cannot be altered to meet dietary needs. I have discovered that there are certain places I just can't eat for this reason.

So, it’s taken two very long post to explain how this works, but hopefully now you understand a bit about how I ended up living off bread, pasta, and cake for the past several years, and how getting back onto a healthy diet is going to be a feat. I really hope that you’ll decide to follow here and share your experiences with trying to get fit and healthy, even if they are totally different from mine and Emily’s.

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