Latex Allergy and Airport Security: What You Need To Know

The events of September 11, 2001 changed all of our lives, and it appears that that there will continue to be changes in the days, perhaps years, to come. Our nation’s heightened security has changed how we travel, and bioterrorism has changed how we regard our daily mail. As I’ve watched the news, I’ve become aware of three items that are of interest to those of us with latex allergies.

Natural Rubber Latex

First, some of you may have heard the admonition on the news a few weeks ago that latex gloves should be worn by postal workers, to protect against anthrax. I cringed when I heard that! I certainly understand the fear that caused it to be said, but I have wondered if this new threat of bioterrorism will set us back in the progress that has been made in decreasing the use of natural rubber latex (NRL) gloves nationwide.

For people with a NRL allergy, inappropriate use of latex gloves carries just as much of a threat of potential death as bioterrorism does. Recently, however, I’ve heard government agencies specify that only nonpowdered, nonlatex gloves should be provided for postal workers, and others, who are at risk for anthrax exposure. If you encounter people who are at risk, please educate them about the danger of latex allergy if they have repeated exposure to NRL gloves. Anyone who uses gloves supplied by their employer (such as postal workers) should be aware of their right to request only nonlatex gloves.

Epipen

Secondly, the American Latex Allergy Association received a call from one of its members, who said that she was not allowed to carry her Epipen on board an airplane. This incident occurred during the first few weeks following September 11. Since that time, the FAA has released an update on airline security, which states that syringes are allowed with documented proof of medical need. You can access the FAA to update. If you do fly, be sure to take a letter signed by your physician that clearly indicates who you are and why you need an EpiPen. A sample letter is available on the Food Allergy Network website.

Finally, there have been reports of airline security personnel wearing latex gloves to search luggage. As serious as the issue of airport security is, it doesn’t diminish the seriousness of unnecessary NRL exposure for those with a NRL allergy. If you encounter people wearing latex gloves for duties that carry no risk of blood exposure, it is certainly within your rights to educate them and/or contact the Director of Security at that facility to report your concerns. Inappropriate NRL glove use is on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of priorities, which, in my mind, makes it just as important as ensuring airport security. After all, both are centered around the safety and well-being of Americans.