Dyshidrotic eczema & chalk


Original Post
Dylan B. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 613

Today I was diagnosed with dyshidrotic excema, which is really just a fancy name for an allergic reaction that causes a rash on the palms. My case is pretty mild, and not a big deal. Seems to pop up once or twice a year for a week or so.

My doctor tells me that one of the risk factors seems to be exposure to some elements. The internet specified nickel, cobalt and chromium. We wondered whether climbing chalk might be a contributing factor. A few posts on MP suggest it might be, but nobody seems to really have any authority.

So, does anyone actually know anything verifiable about a relationship between climbing chalk and dyshidrotic excema? Any first-hand experience?

How about chemicals used to manufacture or clean gym holds? (less likely to be a trigger for me, since my first few bouts with the rash happened during a long period when I wasn't climbing in a gym). 

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0

I don't know any of the specifics, so I understand that I'm offering zero help to you in the way that you asked. However, I know a thing or two about allergic reactions, which it sounds like is your actual issue. Allergies, as you well know are personal and dependent on what you specifically are allergic too. I have real doubts that you'd get a reaction from climbing chalk as the ingredients are inert and essentially just minerals. You could probably swallow a few spoonfuls and not get more than maybe a little GI distress. Every gym cleans their holds a little differently. I know some just use high pressure water and or brushes, some use soap, and some use a mild acid. 

Sorry again for not giving you any specifics. Your condition sounds like a big pain in the butt. I hope you're able to figure out what your trigger(s) is so you can clear up the rash and keep climbing. 

PRRose · · Boulder · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 0
Ryan Hamilton wrote:

...I have real doubts that you'd get a reaction from climbing chalk as the ingredients are inert and essentially just minerals....

Chemical inertness has nothing to do with whether something is an allergen. Nickel allergies are very common and nickel is essentially inert.

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0
PRRose wrote:

Chemical inertness has nothing to do with whether something is an allergen. Nickel allergies are very common and nickel is essentially inert.

You make a good point. 

Lee Green · · Edmonton, Alberta · Joined Nov 2011 · Points: 50

Also consider that while dyshidrotic eczema (aka pompholyx) is poorly understood, it often is a manifestation of a systemic allergy (there is evidence implicating house dust mites, for example) rather than a local contact allergy. I.e., it very well may not be from something touching your hands at all, but rather something you're inhaling. And while I've certainly seen plenty of nickel allergy, in well over 30 years in practice I've never seen anyone with an allergic reaction to chalk. (I'm old enough that I'd have seen it in teachers, who used actual chalk chalkboards back in the day, if it happened.) If it's popping up twice a year for a week or so I'd wonder if the times of year are consistent, then look for what allergens are prevalent in those seasons. Most likely the chalk is not a problem. I have pompholyx as well, and chalk has never been a problem for me. Mulberry pollen, however, seems to set it off.

Joe Garibay · · Ventura, Ca · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 45

You said your allergies could be due to different types of metals. One metal not listed was aluminum. I'm not studied in this field but I'm wondering if it's not chalk but in fact the aluminum dust covering your rope and gear. I see this as more of a threat to health than the chalk. Just my unqualified thoughts.  

stephen arsenault · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 30

Are you sure your condition is allergy caused?  Many years ago, I was under a lot of mental stress, and came down with a pretty severe case of dyshidrotic eczema. Feet and hands. It took many visits to different doctors until it was diagnosed correctly. When I changed jobs and eliminated the stress, my eczema cleared up. Occasionally, I get a little itching, which is always caused by stressful situations. In my case it is always caused by stress.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 770

I have mild hand-foot syndrome from over 12 months of systemic chemotherapy -- symptom wise, it is very similar to eczema or psoriasis of the palms and soles. This makes me more susceptible to irritation, allergic reactions, and other palm related maladies (ignoring the ingrown palm-hairs that started appearing around puberty...).

That being said, I have not had any issues that are triggered by climbing on stone, freshly washed plastic, handling aluminum, dirty ropes, an so on. No reactions to the chalk aside from over-drying. I guess your best bet is to just try and see what does or does not lead to an allergic reaction. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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