Allergic to school? It may sound outlandish, but allergy specialists have determined chalk dust in schools can contain the milk protein, casein, a common trigger for kids who are allergic to milk products.
The finding, contained in a new study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the problem may be particularly pronounced in classrooms where teachers to opt for “dustless” low-powder chalk, which is often made with casein.
"Chalks that are labeled as being anti-dust or dustless still release small particles into the air," said Carlos H. Larramendi, M.D., lead study author. "Our research has found when the particles are inhaled by children with milk allergy, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath can occur. Inhalation can also cause nasal congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose."
Milk allergy affects an estimated 300,000 children in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. About 80 percent of children with milk allergy will likely outgrow it by age 16.
Although many teachers have replaced chalkboards with whiteboards, overhead projectors, and tablets, chalk is still a classroom staple, the researchers said. They advise parents of allergic children to ask to have their kids be seated in the back of the classroom where they are less likely to inhale chalk dust.
James Sublett, M.D., chair of the ACAAI Indoor Environment Committee, noted chalk isn't the only school-related problem for allergic students.
"Milk proteins can also be found in glue, paper, ink, and in other children's lunches," he said.
"Teachers should be informed about foods and other triggers that might cause health problems for children. A plan for dealing with allergy and asthma emergencies should also be shared with teachers, coaches and the school nurse. Children should also carry allergist prescribed epinephrine, inhalers or other life-saving medications."
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