A mother of six from the Muskoka region of Ontario, Canada suffered a serious anaphylactic reaction related to the gift of a poinsettia plant in December 2019.
Michelle Blacklock told Allergic Living that she knew she was allergic to latex, but had never before had a severe reaction.
Nor had she been advised that poinsettias are part of the same plant family as the natural rubber tree – and contain the same allergenic proteins. She certainly knows now, and wants to warn others with latex allergy of the perils of this traditional Christmas plant.
In the following post, Blacklock explains how her reaction to the plant occurred, then progressed from frantic itching to feeling like she couldn’t breathe. Consistent with some anaphylaxis experiences, she also described to Allergic Living a “sense of doom” that something was very wrong.
“It was really scary,” she said. “I feel like I would have been a goner if we had been 10 minutes farther up the highway, away from the hospital.” Following is her cautionary story of being taken by complete surprise by anaphylaxis.
My Shocking Discovery of Latex Allergy’s Severity
By Michelle Blacklock
I nearly left my children and husband without a mother and wife right before Christmas. Our family had gone to my grandparents in Shelburne, Ontario, on Dec. 22 for our family Christmas. My grandmother had bought several poinsettias as gifts for various family members.
I played “Santa” and handed out the gifts. It was a wonderful and memorable day.
After the visit, our immediate family headed northeast in two vehicles, for the 1.5-hour drive home. Kelsey, my 21-year-old daughter, drove the younger three kids in her car, while my husband drove our truck with me, along with the kids Colby, 26, and Olivia, 18. I had one of the poinsettias at my feet and the other was in the back.
An Unbearable Itch
We stopped to get gasoline, and each bought a drink. I opened my can of pop and began drinking. A short time up the road, as we were traveling through the city of Barrie, Ontario, my hands started getting itchy. Next my scalp and upper body became itchy. Soon, I was scratching feverishly and incredibly itchy, then my face started to go numb. My ears from the inside, my nose, cheeks and mouth were all swelling quickly. Yet, I hadn’t been in contact with latex.
It was dark now, and Olivia put her phone flashlight on. She said I was covered in hives. There are no words to describe this itching, it was so intense. I began to panic, as I could feel the swelling starting to affect my breathing.
Seeing my distress, my husband Steve turned the car back south, and was speeding back to Barrie, heading for the local hospital, the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre. Olivia was amazing, she kept urging me: “Mom, stay calm, just keep breathing.” Steve dropped Olivia and me at the door.
Struggling to Breathe
I was red from head to toe, and so swollen and itchy, I was literally going nuts. Olivia ran to tell the triage nurse that I needed to be seen right away. At first, she was greeted with attitude and told to wait. Then the triage nurse got a look at me, and I was whisked into the ER. Nurses and two doctors descended on me, and immediately began shouting out medications and orders.
I could no longer swallow, I was struggling to breathe and it felt like my throat was closing. I was stuck with an epinephrine needle in the thigh, and hooked up to an IV with Benadryl and steroids.
It was all a blur, one that felt like it was happening under water, since my ears were so swollen that everything was muffled. Yet within five minutes of getting the medicine, the symptoms began to subside. The relief was incredible.
But I Hadn’t Touched Latex
The doctors’ first question was an obvious one. “What are you allergic to?”
I have allergies to latex and to penicillin. My latex allergy has been a minor issue since I was a young adult. Two years ago, following abdominal surgery, a technician tested my lung function on a spirometry machine. My lips and throat became swollen shortly afterward – and it turned out the mouthpiece on the apparatus contained latex. That experience resolved quickly, however.
But this time, I was scared and confused. I had not had direct contact with latex. So what could have happened?
We mentioned the poinsettia at my feet. The doctor was immediately certain that was the cause, explaining that poinsettia and the rubber tree share several of the same proteins. Essentially, the poinsettia has latex.
Poinsettia, Latex and the Soda
We figured out that I got some of the poinsettia milk on my hands while touching the plant and then transferred it to my drink can, and then into my mouth. In other words, a beautiful Christmas plant nearly killed me!
The doctor wanted to monitor me for four hours, and made Olivia go to the drugstore to get two EpiPens before I could be released. I now have to carry those auto-injectors at all times and am getting a medical ID bracelet.
Olivia and Steve truly saved the day with their quick thinking and acting. However, I was up all that first night after this anaphylactic reaction, thinking about how close I’d come to losing my life.
My message to any of you reading with a latex allergy is to be vigilant and aware. And stay away from poinsettia plants!
Editor’s Note: In addition to carrying auto-injectors, Michelle Blacklock has asked her general practitioner to get her a referral to an allergist. Where Blacklock lives, the local allergist has an 18-month-long waiting list. She told her doctor she would travel anywhere in the province for an allergist appointment in the next few months. “I said, I don’t want to wait that long, that’s how bad this situation scared me. My children need their mother.”
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