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Food allergy in college or university students

Scott H Sicherer, MD, FAAAAI
Section Editor
Robert A Wood, MD
Deputy Editor
Elizabeth TePas, MD, MS


Food allergy may affect up to 8 percent of teenagers [1] and can involve life-threatening or fatal reactions [2,3]. Teenagers and young adults appear to be at higher risk for fatal allergic reactions, possibly because of risk-taking behavior and reluctance to use epinephrine [2-6]. College years may be the first time that young adults are away from parental supervision and fully responsible for self-management of their allergy. Risks of allergic reactions may be increased due to social pressures against proper allergen avoidance and prompt treatment, as well as factors associated with obtaining meals that are prepared by others.

This topic presents an overview of the prevalence of food allergy in teenagers, reviews data on fatal food-allergic reactions, describes food allergy attitudes and behaviors among teenagers and college students, focuses on risk-taking behaviors identified in this age group and possible approaches to reducing these behaviors, and discusses general strategies for managing food allergy in this age group.

This review also discusses the components of effective management of food allergy in colleges and the approach that students with food allergies and their families may take in preparing for college. Publications are available that provide further resources, such as college training instructions, as well as examples of materials provided by colleges. (See 'Resources' below.)

Other aspects of food allergy are presented separately. (See "Management of food allergy: Avoidance" and "Clinical manifestations of food allergy: An overview" and "Food allergy in schools and camps".)


Prevalence — Although studies are lacking to adequately document a potential rise in food allergy among college-age students, several studies suggest high rates of allergy in this age group, underscoring the need for management in colleges. The following observations about food allergy prevalence are especially relevant:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 29, 2017.
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