Natural Rubber Latex (NRL) allergy, like peanut allergy, can be life-threatening with symptoms ranging from mild skin reactions to full blown anaphylactic shock. NRL allergy has increased in prevalence over the past 20 years and is now estimated to affect around about 1% of the general population, with increased rates in individuals with frequent exposure to NRL products, eg healthcare workers and others using gloves on a regular basis or patients undergoing multiple invasive procedures. Death, although rare, has been reported due to NRL Allergy.
The Latex Allergy Support Group, UK’s support organisation for those with NRL allergy, has conducted a survey on its membership looking at the effects of balloon exposure.
The findings indicate that NRL balloons are indeed a major problem for sensitised individuals, with members reporting symptoms ranging from wheezing to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock at worst on exposure.
Symptoms were experienced both from direct touch and even from inhalation alone, ie by simply being in the vicinity of balloon displays: this is possible when NRL dust is dispersed into the air, for example when a balloon bursts or deflates.
Furthermore, the vast majority of respondents indicated that the thought of being exposed to NRL balloons in public premises made them feel anxious and restricted their access to such places.
91% of respondents thought that NRL balloons should be banned from public premises and 95% would feel less anxious if balloons on display were made from latex-free foil or Mylar.