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.

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.

Common food allergies

The most common food allergies are understandably in very common foods—milk, eggs, and peanuts. Wheat, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy are also common food allergies. Companies are required by the FDA to list any possible food allergens. Visit the FDA website to learn how these allergens are listed. 

Food allergy 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
  • Sneezing, stuffy, or itchy nose or itchy, teary eyes
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body

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

  • A sensation of a lump in the throat that makes breathing difficult
  • Vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure

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

How to handle food allergies and school

  • 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 a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist in pediatrics and internal medicine at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. She has spent 30 years as a physician practicing in academic hospitals in both the United States and China. She worked as a physician-educator and physician-scientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine.