Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Laying off Latex

If you're some kind of PVC pervert who stumbled on to this post seeking to indulge your prurient fantasies--move along. This ain't no fetish post. Today's topic is latex. Or more specifically latex allergy. Which, apparently, I have.

It's not really surprising. I'm allergic to cats and dogs (but mostly cats...), trees and grass (Sneezing and wheezing during pollen season!) and dust. Try being allergic to dust--it's EVERYWHERE! And then some random things like cigarette smoke, mint (Lifesavers make me sneeze!), nickel (can't wear cheap jewelry), but I never really thought I was allergic to latex.

It all started with this weird rash that started on the right side of my face. Sometimes it would flare up. Sometimes it would spread across my neck. It would get flaky, it would blister and ooze. Attractive, huh? I went to a dermatologist. He said it was contact dermatitis and prescribe topical cortisone. What am I coming into contact with? He mentioned nickel as a possibility. Aha! I stopped wearing cheap jewelry and earrings. The rash subsided.

Then it returned and would flare and ebb for years. Nothing I tried could soothe it. Another dermatologist said it was rosacea. Hmm--I don't think so. Rosacea usually shows up on one's cheeks and nose--not their jawline! Still suffering, I went to see a dermatologist at UCLA. Again a diagnosis of dermatitis. Okay, but what am I putting on my skin to make it break out in a rash?

Turns out it wasn't what I was putting on my skin, but into my ears. Namely, earbuds.

I've been walking around with music pumping into my ears pretty much since the Walkman was invented. I'd go through headphones one after another. Until I couldn't find a cheap and decent replacement pair and had to settle for (horrors!) earbuds. I'd avoided earbuds because, even though they're not nearly as dorky looking as headphones, they look uncomfortable. And in fact they ARE uncomfortable. But I soon got used to them. What I didn't get used to was those little round foam thingies (that is the precise technical term for them--"foam thingies") which would always fall off and get lost or even stick inside my ear.

I stopped using them. That was the mistake.

Because what I didn't realize it that those foam thingies not only add a layer of comfort (a very, very thin layer to be sure) but were protecting me from direct contact with latex. Oh, yeah--those earbuds are made from latex. I did not know that. I suspected maybe a sensitivity to latex when I'd pull on a pair of rubber gloves to wash dishes and my nose would itch and I'd sneeze, but I had not realized that my earbuds might be the cause of my chronic dermatititis. I thought maybe the vinyl covering over the wires rubbing against my cheeks might have caused it, but actually it was the earbud itself. I found this article about latex allergies and it confirmed my suspicions.

So I bought a cheap pair of latex-free earbuds off the internet and, after FIVE years, it seems like the rash is finally clearing up!

Beware of latex!

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