My battle with latex allergy started in nursing school. I began having contact dermatitis when I wore powdered gloves (both latex and non-latex) but I ignored it since most of the other students had it too. This continued for about 2 years. I finally paid attention when I had crusts a quarter inch deep on the backs of my hands and in between my fingers. My hands itched like crazy after wearing gloves and were red and inflamed all the time.
When my friends and family started commenting on how bad they looked, I went to see my doctor. The diagnosis was what I expected…dermatitis. Nothing was said about an allergic reaction. I got hydrocortisone cream and within a few weeks, my hands looked better. I stopped wearing powdered examination gloves but I worked in ICU and used sterile gloves every 1-2 hours throughout every shift. The only sterile gloves we had were powdered latex.
The next step was small circular rashes on my arms. This time, I was diagnosed with ringworm and got an antifungal cream, along with more hydrocortisone cream. The rashes went away where I used the cream but I started breaking out on my hips and legs from the elastic in my underwear. I also noticed red, raised, itchy areas in strange places that seemed worse at work and got better when I was off for a few days. I had these on my eyelids, my right arm, and my left foot. About this time, the employee health nurse sent out a latex allergy survey. I responded “yes” to almost every question that began “Have you ever had a reaction from…” I talked to my primary doctor, was referred to an allergist and had to test for latex allergy. The blood test for antibodies was negative but the skin prick test was positive. That, combined with my history, convinced my allergist that I had a latex allergy.
I went back to work and started wearing vinyl gloves under the powdered latex gloves when I had to do sterile procedures-which continued to be throughout every shift. I thought I was protecting myself by keeping the latex from touching my skin. I tended to ignore my symptoms, even though I knew better. After all, I was a nurse; I was supposed to take care of my patients first. It turned out that my lack of education and denial would be my undoing.