By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For allergies at home, pets and dust mites are common triggers and can lead to asthma attacks. But what about at school?

Kids may say they’re allergic to school, but is there actually something to this?

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A study in JAMA Pediatrics looked at this issue at 37 inner-city schools in Boston. Nearly 300 students with asthma participated, ages 4 to 13.

Dust samples at home and in the classroom were collected and analyzed.

“It showed that mouse could be relevant in school buildings,” said Dr. James DeAngelo, of Allergy & Clinical Immunology Associates.

Higher exposure to mouse allergen was linked to increased symptoms of asthma.

The odd thing, though, the skin testing that is commonly used to detect allergies was positive for mouse in only 30 percent of the kids, and the increased symptoms with increased exposure was across the board.

Possible explanations include:

  • Maybe mouse allergy is through a different immune system protein besides the one involved in skin tests.
  • Perhaps it’s a different part of the mouse than what’s tested in skin tests that causes the reaction.
  • Or it could be that it’s not really the mouse at all.
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“It may have been other things that are associated with mice, such as water damage, poor air quality,” Dr. DeAngelo said.

In any case, the finding may spur more research in more schools in other settings.

“Most of our academic centers are centered in big cities. You don’t have a private practice such as ours doing that kind of research. It has to be funded by someone,” Dr. DeAngelo said. “So we may not get the study we need in the suburbs.”

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If you have allergy symptoms only at school, it’s not clear that mouse allergy testing will help, as a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean the coast is clear. Also, the acceptable level of mice has yet to be figured out.

“All of the schools had mouse allergen. It was just those in the 75th percentile and those in the 25th percentile [are] what they were looking at in terms of difference,” said Dr. DeAngelo said. “So what level of mouse do we consider it unhealthy?”

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Until it’s all sorted out, treating allergy symptoms at school with medications may be the only option for now.