Allergies in School-Aged Children

Allergies are caused when the immune system is triggered by something it recognizes as harmful, even though it is not harmful to most people. The trigger can be pet dander, pollen, or certain foods. This triggered immune reaction varies from person to person, from mild to severe. Knowing how to recognize an allergic reaction can help prepare for a possible emergency.

Did you know…

A food intolerance (such as lactose intolerance) is not a food allergy. It does not involve the immune system and is not life-threatening.  Usually, it happens because the food cannot be digested or absorbed. Symptoms are likely to be nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.


The best way to stop an allergic reaction is to avoid the trigger. For example, with a pollen allergy, stay inside with windows closed when the pollen count is high. For an insect sting allergy, keep garbage covered and away from doors, and clean up sugary spills right away. For food allergies, read labels and let restaurants know if you eat out.

Recognizing an allergic reaction

The symptoms of an allergy differ from person to person, but there are common signs and symptoms. Emergencies can be reduced if the signs of a reaction are well known.

Seasonal allergies (click to expand) »

Seasonal allergy, or hay fever, is the most common type of allergy. The symptoms are like having a cold. Pollens from grass, weeds, flowers, and trees are the triggers.

Symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose, eyes, or roof of the mouth
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Watery, red, or swollen eyes
Food allergies (click to expand) »

Food allergies to wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish, fish, soy, and egg are common. Most reactions will happen within 5-60 minutes

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of lips, tongue, face, or throat
  • Tingling in the mouth or throat
  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Did you know… 

You cannot have an allergic reaction by only smelling peanut butter.

Drug allergies (click to expand) »

Drug allergies to medications, over-the-counter, prescription, or herbal, can happen. Penicillin or sulfa drugs are examples of medicine that are more likely to cause a reaction.

Symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the face
  • Wheezing
Insect sting allergies (click to expand) »

Insect sting allergies can happen at the sting site or all over the body.

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling, redness, heat, or pain at the sting site
  • Itching or hives all over the body
  • Cough
  • Flushing
  • Wheezing
Anaphylaxis (click to expand) »

Anaphylaxis is the word used to describe a severe allergic reaction. It can happen very quickly and can cause death. Anaphylaxis can occur after a person:

  • Eats a food they are allergic to;
  • Takes a medicine they are allergic to;
  • Is stung by an insect they are allergic to;
  • Touches something made of latex if they are allergic to latex.

Other triggers can also cause anaphylaxis, and the symptoms can involve more than one body part. The most common are:

  • Hives are raised, red, and itchy patches of skin
  • Angioedema is when the body becomes puffy, usually of the face, eyelids, ears, mouth, hands, or feet.

Other anaphylaxis symptoms:

  • Redness or itching of the skin (without hives)
  • Swelling or itching of the eyes
  • Runny nose or swelling of the tongue
  • Trouble breathing, wheezing, or a change in your voice
  • Throwing up or having diarrhea
  • Feeling dizzy or passing out

Treating an allergic reaction

Respond to an allergic reaction as quickly as possible. Antihistamines can effectively reduce the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening and requires the use of an epinephrine autoinjector.

For anaphylactic reactions

Don’t delay in giving epinephrine! That’s one of the most common mistakes people make during anaphylactic reactions. Epinephrine is safe, and it can save a life. Never hesitate to use it.

Source: Food Allergy Canada


A MedicAlert® bracelet lets other people know about your allergy if you become unable to talk. Parents should speak with their child’s teachers about preventing, recognizing, and treating allergies.

Check with your school to see if it is part of the MedicAlert® No Child Without program.

Involve your children

You should teach your children about allergy management by letting them know:

  • about safe eating practices, such as handwashing before eating and not sharing/trading food,
  • how to recognize the symptoms of a reaction,
  • how and when to take medicines like antihistamines,
  • how to use an autoinjector and always carry it with them, when age-appropriate, if they are diagnosed with anaphylaxis.

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Last updated: 2022-06-09