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Children with Milk Allergies Need to Avoid This One Hidden Milk Allergen in School

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Children learning to avoid Milk Allergies

According to a recent study published in the May issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, schoolchildren with milk allergies may be exposed to hidden milk allergens that could bring-on an asthma attack. The source of the milk allergen? Dustless chalk.

Dustless chalk is a classroom staple many teachers preferentially use in the classroom over regular chalk because it is less messy to use. Back in the day, a favored student was typically assigned the fun task of beating the chalk board erasers against the trunk of a particular tree in the school yard to shake off the chalk dust-laden erasers. Alas and alack, the days of white-collared trees in schoolyards have gone the way of flip-top desks and dodge ball as it used to be played.

Today however, there are rarely any schoolyard trees and even less of the inclination to allow a young student to wander outside of the school building.

To solve the problem of dusty chalk erasers, dustless chalk was developed that contains casein—a milk protein additive that significantly lowers the amount of dust generated with use. You can tell that a piece of chalk is the dustless type by an unnaturally hard and slick feel to its surface.

While dustless chalk fulfills its intended purpose, one unintended consequence is that it still releases some milk protein-containing dust particles that can elicit an allergic reaction or other respiratory problems in a susceptible child.

"Chalks that are labeled as being anti-dust or dustless still release small particles into the air," says Carlos H. Larramendi, MD, 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."

As it turns out, dustless chalk is not the only offender found in the classroom that can cause problems for a child with a milk allergy. According to a press release issued by American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, James Sublett, MD, chair of the ACAAI Indoor Environment Committee states that parents and teacher need to be aware of other hidden milk-related allergens in the classroom:

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"Chalk isn't the only item in a school setting that can be troublesome to milk allergic students," says Dr. Sublett. "Milk proteins can also be found in glue, paper, ink, and in other children's lunches. 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."

Recommendations for parents with schoolchildren that have milk allergies include:

• Parents should ask to have their child seated in the back of the classroom where they are less likely to inhale chalk dust.

• Parents should instruct their child to be sure to wash their hands after handling chalk regardless of the type of chalk to avoid confusing the child.

• Children should be knowledgeable about their prescribed epinephrine, inhalers or other life-saving medications and have permission from their school to carry medications with them in case of an emergency.

For additional information about child safety at school, follow this link to an article titled “Nurses Offer Advice for Life-Threatening Food Allergies and School Safety.”

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: “Allergenicity of casein containing chalk in milk allergic schoolchildren” Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology volume 110, Issue 5 Pages 335-339, May 2013; Carlos H. Larramendi, MD et al.