An allergy is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to a substance, called an allergen, found in the environment. Allergens include medication, pollen, pets, medication, or certain types of food.
At Penn State Children’s Hospital, we take a caring, child-friendly approach to diagnosing and treating patients who have allergic conditions. We’re committed to giving families the treatment and resources they need to keep their children safe, productive, and happy.
Care at Children's
We see infants, children, and adolescents with environmental, food, medication, stinging insect allergies, and immune disorders.
In addition to physicians, our team includes nurse practitioners, nutritionists, social workers, and respiratory therapists. Our philosophy involves a multidisciplinary approach to care, with intensive education and training at the time of diagnosis and re-evaluation.
Children are often concerned about allergy tests being painful or uncomfortable. In our clinic, our approach is patient-centric and kid-friendly. We make patients feel comfortable by:
- Thoroughly explaining what we’re going to do so that there are no surprises.
- Demonstrating the test on a parent or adult first, if necessary.
- Using distraction techniques, such as sticker pages, coloring, and blowing bubbles.
Our team is focused on education, whether it’s teaching families how to use an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) or how to create a food allergy action plan. Families receive handouts on how to best handle their child’s particular condition, and we take the time to answer questions they may have and locate resources to help.
If allergies are suspected, your first step should be to make an appointment with us for a consultation. During this visit, our doctors and nurse practitioners will examine your child and get a history. Evaluation and treatment depends on your child’s particular background and condition.
For suspected environmental and food allergies, children receive skin testing, which involves gently placing a small amount of an allergen under the skin of the patient’s back. The procedure doesn’t involve needles and is not painful. Results are available within 15 minutes, and an allergic reaction is identified though redness and swelling at the skin test site. Depending on your child’s history, additional lab tests may be ordered.
For suspected medication and stinging insect allergies, testing is not performed during the first visit. Instead, we focus on history-taking and understanding your child’s background. Patients will return for special testing, which may include intradermal testing.
We work with you and your child to create treatment plans tailored to your child’s condition. Treatments for allergic conditions include:
- Desensitization (allergy shots)
When evaluation or treatment involves needles, we do our best to minimize pain and discomfort. We offer a topical anesthetic for children who are getting blood drawn. An anesthetic spray is available for children receiving allergy shots.
Children may outgrow food allergies. If we think that your child may no longer be allergic to a particular food, we may recommend doing an oral challenge. During this test, the patient eats the food while monitored by a doctor for safety.
Allergy care involves multidisciplinary care from many divisions and departments, including:
Our pediatric clinic is located at:
Penn State Children’s Hospital
200 Campus Drive, Suite 1100
Hershey, PA 17033
We see also patients at clinics in Lancaster, Reading, and State College, Pennsylvania. For the location nearest to you, call 800-243-1455.
Groups, Classes & Support
Allergic reactions can be life threatening. Worrying about accidentally eating or being exposed to the food you’re allergic to is stressful - for kids and their parents.
Support groups provide an opportunity to share your feelings and connect with other parents and caregivers who are experiencing similar struggles.
Research & Clinical Trials
Our clinical trials office guides participants through the process, from initiation through completion of the study.
Symptoms, Diagnosis & OutlookAn allergy is an immune response or reaction to substances that are usually not harmful.
The part of the body the allergen touches affects what symptoms you develop. For example:
- Allergens that you breathe in often cause a stuffy nose, itchy nose and throat, mucus, cough, wheezing.
- Allergens that touch the eyes may cause itchy, watery, red, swollen eyes.
- Eating something you are allergic to can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or a severe, life-threatening reaction.
- Allergens that touch the skin can cause a skin rash, hives, itching, blisters, or skin peeling.
- Drug allergies usually involve the whole body and can lead to a variety of symptoms.
Exams & Diagnostic Tests
Your care team provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions, such as when the allergy occurs.
Allergy testing may be needed to find out whether the symptoms are an actual allergy or are caused by other problems. For example, eating contaminated food (food poisoning) may cause symptoms similar to food allergies. Some medications (such as aspirin and ampicillin) can produce non-allergic reactions, including rashes. A runny nose or cough may actually be due to an infection.
Skin testing is the most common method of allergy testing. One type of skin testing is the prick test. It involves placing a small amount of the suspected allergy-causing substances on the skin, and then slightly pricking the area so the substance moves under the skin. The skin is closely watched for signs of a reaction, which include swelling and redness. Other types of skin tests include patch testing and intradermal testing. Skin testing may be an option for some young children and infants.
Outlook & Prognosis
Most allergies can be easily treated with medication.
Some children may outgrow an allergy, especially food allergies. But once a substance has triggered an allergic reaction, it usually continues to affect the person.
Allergy shots are most effective when used to treat hay fever and insect sting allergies. They are not used to treat food allergies because of the danger of a severe reaction.
Allergy shots may need years of treatment, but they work in most cases. However, they may cause uncomfortable side effects (such as hives and rash) and dangerous outcomes (such as anaphylaxis). Talk with your provider whether allergy drops (SLIT) are right for you.