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Food Allergies Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

A food allergy happens when the body's immune system, which normally fights infections, reacts to a food as an invader. The immune system responds by releasing chemicals such as histamine into the body, triggering an allergic reaction.

Lots of kids have food allergies. The most common food allergies are to:

  • peanuts and other nuts
  • seafood (fish and/or shellfish)
  • milk products
  • eggs
  • soy
  • wheat

Allergic reactions can cause:

  • itchiness, rash, or hives
  • runny or stuffy nose, sneezing
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing
  • abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • swelling
  • throat tightness and hoarseness
  • lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting

Even if previous reactions have been mild, someone with a food allergy is always at risk of a serious reaction called anaphylaxis. This can be life-threatening and needs immediate medical care. In some children, even touching or inhaling a food they are allergic to can cause anaphylaxis.

Students who have food allergies may need to:

  • carry an epinephrine auto-injector for emergencies
  • wear a medical alert bracelet
  • go to the school nurse to take medicine or assess reactions
  • have special seating accommodations during lunch to avoid exposure to allergens like peanuts
  • have alternative snacks or foods for lunches, snack times, or classroom parties

What Teachers Can Do

The best strategy is to help students with allergies avoid the foods and drinks that they are allergic to. Be sure to read the ingredients on food labels and don't allow food in your classroom if it might cause problems.

Students with food allergies may be bullied because of their allergies. Help other students understand the special precautions required due to food allergies.

Students at risk for food allergies must have a plan for handling emergencies. Make sure you, the students, parents, and school nurse all know where the epinephrine auto-injector is stored and how your student will get it quickly if needed.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018