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Doctors: Sports Fans’ ‘White-Outs’ Can Be A Big Health Risk

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Students at a Neuqua Valley High School football game toss white powder into the air as part of a "White Out." Doctors say the large clouds of white powder can cause breathing problems, especially for excited youth who are breathing hard. (Credit: CBS)

Students at a Neuqua Valley High School football game toss white powder into the air as part of a “White Out.” Doctors say the large clouds of white powder can cause breathing problems, especially for excited youth who are breathing hard. (Credit: CBS)

Brad Edwards Brad Edwards
Brad Edwards is a general assignment reporter for CBS 2 Chicago. He...
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NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) – At some sporting events, it’s become more and more common for fans to shoot or throw white powder into the air as part of a “White-Out” for their team. It’s a burgeoning tradition at one suburban high school, and doctors say it’s downright dangerous.

CBS 2 was tipped off to the story by a concerned parent. We did a little digging and found out why this ritual is clouded in potential disaster. CBS 2’s Brad Edwards spoke to physicians and attended Neuqua Valley High School’s “White-Out.”

As sure as the wind whispers of fall, Fridays mean football. For Neuqua Valley students, it means a “White-Out.”

At a recent game, crowds chanted,”It’s starting, it’s starting, it’s starting,” as white powder shot into the air. As more powder was shot into the sky they yelled,”I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win.”

The “White-Out” has become a known ritual of the high school. You might think it’s just a harmless powder, but imagine inhaling it. One student in downtown Naperville said, “It’s very impressive,it’s kind of almost intimidating I guess.”

Students said they do not know what the powder is composed of.

“I heard it’s, like, a secret sworn to only some people at Neuqua,” said one student.

A YouTube video of Neuqua’s “White-Out” was found and shown to doctors. In the video, one student said, “It’s like a gas chamber.”

Another added, “My nose tickles so much, I need to blow my nose.”

Dr. Girish Sharma, a pediactric pulmonologist at Rush University Medical Center, watched the YouTube video of the “White-Out.”

“I looked at the video and I said, ‘Oh my God, this is not good.’ This is not good for their lungs, and it’s causing problems,” Sharma said.

He explained what could happen when the powder is inhaled into the lungs.

“There are two things actually,” he said. “You will start coughing, because there’s something unwanted in your bronchial tubes. … some of it really travels deep into your lungs and settles into your bronchial tubes.”

The white powder is particularly dangerous for kids with asthma; whether it’s flour, corn starch, baking powder, or talc baby powder – which comes with a bold-type warning that says, “AVOID INHALATION.”

Rush Pediactric Nurse Practitioner Jenifer Burke said, in the environment of a sporting event, people are likely to inhale more of the powder.

“In this situation these kids are all excited. They’re jumping up and down, they’re cheering, they’re yelling, they’re taking in huge breaths of air while surrounded with all this powder, so they’re exacerbating the situation,” she said.

Sharma said he believes the “White-Out” activity should be banned.

“I think I’ll be comfortable in telling the principal that I think it should be banned,” he said.

A number of parents expressed concern, but didn’t want to go on camera considering the social ramifications.

Neuqua Valley principal Bob McBride said he heard of kids experiencing problems with their sinuses and eyes afterward.

“As we move forward, it’s not something we’re going to allow to happen. It will be prohibited,” McBride said.

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