One in three children in the United States – nearly six million in total – have food allergies. About a third of them  are allergic to more than one food.

With a new school year underway, parents of children with allergies may find themselves concerned about their child’s health in school. Understandably, a school is an environment where parents have limited control and different foods can increase potential exposure to allergens.

That’s why it’s important to know which “trigger” foods to avoid, the signs and symptoms of a reaction, and how to take action.

Signs and symptoms

Food allergy symptoms typically occur within a few minutes to two hours of eating trigger foods. Reactions can range from itching and nausea to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition. Even if the original incident only caused minor or mild symptoms, a more severe reaction is possible with future reactions.

The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:

  • Itching and hives
  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body
  • Nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting

In some people, a food allergy can cause a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. Life-threatening symptoms can arise, including:

  • Tightening of the airways
  • A swollen throat or sensation of a lump in the throat that makes breathing difficult
  • Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness

Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis. If left untreated, it can cause death.

Back-to-school advice

  • Ask your child’s physician to complete a food allergy and anaphylaxis emergency care plan and be sure to fill any recommended prescriptions.
  • Notify your child’s school and develop a clear, written plan. Make an appointment with your child’s teachers, principals, instructors, and school nurses to discuss any necessary accommodations for your child’s safety and inclusion. It’s also worth reviewing your child’s emergency care plan with the school.
  • Enlist an allergist for additional guidance. The Food Allergy Center at Hasbro Children's Hospital is a valuable resource for local families looking to create a care plan or to help diagnose potential allergies.

A child’s lifelong success in living with food allergies depends upon understanding the allergy, being able to identify triggers and symptoms, and knowing how to seek immediate help.

For more information, visit the Food Allergy Center at Hasbro Children's Hospital.

Tao Zheng, MD

Dr. Tao Zheng is the division director for  Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Hasbro Children’s Hospital .

Allergy & Immunology »