Common classroom item may make some ‘allergic to class’
Dustless chalk in classrooms may keep teachers’ hands and classrooms clean, but a study published in the May issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reveals it may also be making some students with milk allergies sick.
The anti-dust, low-powder chalk often contains casein, a milk protein. When children who are allergic to milk inhale the chalk particles containing casein, they can suffer life-threatening asthma attacks and other respiratory issues, the study revealed.
“Chalks that are labeled as being anti-dust or dustless still release small particles into the air,” said Carlos H. Larramendi, lead study author, in a release. “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.”
The study participants included 12 milk-allergic children varying in age from preschool-aged infants to school-aged children. Each of the participants had either a skin test or chalk use test. Milk-allergic school-aged children who were exposed to chalk, reported symptoms attributed to chalk exposure. The skin test results were positive in all 12 study participants.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), an estimated 300,000 children suffer from a milk allergy. Although it is believed that most children will outgrow the milk allergy by age 3, recent studies contradict this theory and indicate that school-aged children are still affected. However, 80 percent of children with milk allergy will likely outgrow it by age 19, according to ACAAI.
Chalk is only one culprit in a school setting that can cause problems for students with milk allergy, explained James Sublett, chair of the ACAAI Indoor Environment Committee, in a statement. “Milk proteins can also be found in glue, paper, ink, and in other children’s lunches,” said Sublett.
Since chalk will likely be a staple in classrooms for some time to come, Sublett recommended that parents with milk-allergic children ask to have their child seated in the back of the classroom where they’re less likely to inhale chalk dust.
“Teachers should be informed about foods and other triggers that might cause health problems for children,” said Sublett. “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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