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Bounce Carefully in the Ball Pit

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In addition to these risks comes a report from Italy about children having nearly fatal reactions to latex in ball pits. Latex is a protein in rubber. Although the balls in the pits are made from plastic, the researchers say the foam padding on the floor of these pits is made of latex, which contaminates the balls the children play with. The study is reported in the August issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Latex allergy can be serious, says New York University Medical Center allergy expert Clifford Bassett, MD. It takes several exposures to "sensitize" people to the point that they will have an allergic reaction, but, as he points out, most newborns have reached that sensitivity level from exposure to the rubber nipples on most baby bottles.

Once people are sensitized to latex, their reactions can range from poison ivy-like rashes to a very dangerous condition called anaphylaxis, which causes swelling that can block air from reaching the lungs. That's the type of reaction the Italian researchers saw in a 5-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.

Parents need to be alert to signs of allergic reactions in their kids following playtime in these pits, Bassett says -- and, of course, if the child is known to have latex allergies, he or she should avoid them altogether. As with concern about collisions, germs, and foreign objects, he says, let common sense guide your decision making.

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