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Talking to EMTs About Your Allergy

“911, what is your emergency?” 

Cough, wheeze, “I’m having trouble” cough, wheeze, “breathing.” 

“I’ll have an ambulance there in no time.” 

“Wait”, cough, wheeze, “but I’m allergic to latex”, cough, wheeze. 

“OK, what special needs do you have?” 

This is not the time to have to explain how the EMS crew can decrease your exposure to latex. Careful planning can help prevent the above scenario. Your local EMS crews do not go out looking for latex allergic patients. It is your responsibility to bring this fact to their attention before a crisis occurs. 

First you need to find out which EMS unit (or units) may be dispatched in your area. If you visit relatives or friends, or work, shop, etc. outside this area; you will need to check which EMS units service those areas also. Use a non-emergency phone number to call the emergency dispatcher to get this information. Your local police dept. can help if you are unable to find this number. When you speak to the dispatcher, give him the addresses and ask which EMS unit would be called out first, second (in case the first out unit is unavailable), and third. Also ask if that unit is BLS (basic life support) or ALS (advanced life support). In some areas both BLS and ALS units are dispatched to a call. 

Once you find out just who you need to speak to, you need to prepare what to tell them. It will be most convenient to have everything written, give a copy to each EMS unit and keep a copy for yourself. Start with general information: name, address, birthdate and age, doctors and hospitals, medical conditions and medications. Include signs and symptoms of latex reactions, and recommended treatments. If you have your own latex free emergency equipment; make a list of all supplies and keep them together (maybe in a specially marked backpack) and describe what they are kept in and where they can be found in an emergency. Include other information such as specific treatment wishes (such as a living will), insurance information, emergency contacts, etc. 

A list of “medical products frequently containing latex and examples of latex-safe alternatives” and also a list of products found in the home should be presented to the EMS unit. Ask for an inventory of their equipment; go through it and indicate which products contain latex. Most EMS units have regular meetings. Request that they take some time during one of those meetings to review and discuss how to handle the latex allergic patient. If this meeting is held away from the ambulance station, volunteer to attend the meeting to assist with the presentation or to be available to answer questions. A word of caution: many people attend these meetings while on duty or directly after completing a shift and attend in the clothing they wore while working – clothing that may be contaminated with latex. Ask that the ambulance station post the information and articles you have given them. You may want to provide them with your phone number in case questions arise. Continue to send them lists and articles to keep them updated.