Is chalk dust a risk for kids with a milk allergy?

According to a study published in the May issue of Annals of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, a group of allergy researchers in Spain found exposure to classroom low-powder chalk dust may be associated with allergic and respiratory symptoms in a very small group of milk-allergic children.

In fact, they found that a milk protein, casein, was present in the classroom chalk dust. Asthma attacks and other respiratory allergies could occur if kids inhale chalk particles.

"Chalks that are labeled as being anti-dust or dustless still release small particles into the air," said Dr. Carlos H. Larramendi, the study's lead author. "Our research 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."

An estimated 300,000, or 2.5 percent, of children in the United States are affected by milk allergies. Although the most important and common way to be exposed to a food allergen, such as milk, is oral ingestion, it is not clear as to the true risk of exposure and subsequent reaction to chalk dust, in children with confirmed cow’s milk allergy.

According to Dr. James Sublett, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, milk proteins can also be found in glue, paper, ink and other kid's lunches.

It is certainly not fully known whether typical low-powder chalk dust is laden with cow’s milk proteins in our country. It’s also important to note that the study looked at a very small group of young children with cow’s milk allergy. Risks can be present at school for children with milk and food allergies, though the main exposure and concern is clearly through oral ingestion. While allergic reactions to foods via skin contact and inhalation are not commonly recognized or reported, it is still an important aspect to allergy awareness that has been brought to our attention by this study.

Your allergist is a very important resource in mitigating risk and properly evaluating your child when allergic and/or respiratory symptoms are present. This is especially important in children with food allergies who are in need of a comprehensive written “food allergy action plan.”