Personalized and Specialized Care for Food Allergies, Intolerances and Sensitivities

The UChicago FACET (Food Allergy Care, Education and Translational Research) Center provides comprehensive care for adults, infants, children and teens with food allergies or intolerances by supporting both innovative clinical care and state-of-the-art research.

Common Symptoms of Food Allergies

Signs of an allergic reaction to food may include:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea
  • In severe cases, swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing

NOTE: Please go to the emergency room right away if you are experiencing difficulty breathing.

Diagnosing Food Allergies, Intolerances and Sensitivities

Our care team takes an expansive look at your medical history, performs a physical exam and may use a skin prick test and/or blood test to check for food allergies. If allergy test results and medical history are inconclusive, and do not show whether or not you have (or still have) an allergy to a specific food, we may recommend an oral food challenge test.

If you have a food allergy, your care team will work with you to develop a comprehensive management plan. This plan will include strategies for avoiding foods or medications that trigger reactions, as well as creating an emergency plan to treat reactions if they occur. Your provider may discuss experimental treatments for food allergy.

Oral Food Challenge

If allergy test results and medical history are inconclusive, and do not show whether or not you have (or still have) an allergy to a specific food, we may recommend an oral food challenge test.

The oral food challenge involves eating a serving of the allergic food in a slow, graded fashion under medical supervision. The food challenge procedure is the most accurate test to determine whether a food needs to be avoided or will no longer need to be avoided.

The food challenge is undertaken when you or your child is in generally good health and can discontinue antihistamine for a brief period (usually three days) before the test.

During the food challenge, you or your child will be given very small amounts of the specific food being tested. If tolerated, increasing amounts of the challenge food will be given with close observation at each stage.

You or your child will be observed for symptoms such as itching, rash, abdominal pain or difficulty breathing. If any symptoms develop, treatment will begin immediately. In most cases, this will involve the use of diphenhydramine and/or epinephrine to prevent any allergic reactions from getting worse. In studies of food challenges, many children develop mild symptoms during a food challenge that require these treatments. Very rarely, other treatments are needed for more serious reactions.

In some cases, your doctor may decide to place an IV in you or your child’s arm before the challenge starts. This would be used to give medicine if needed.

Sometimes, the food challenge is performed by masking the food to hide the taste, and using food that looks/tastes the same but does not contain the food being tested. This is called a placebo. These procedures reduce the possibility that we would misjudge a reaction to the food that could occur from fear or distaste of the new food.

The discomforts associated with the food challenge are generally no more than those encountered when eating the food. Symptoms usually are short-lived (less than two hours). Symptoms may include an itchy skin rash, nausea, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, diarrhea, stuffy “runny” nose, sneezing or wheezing.

Major risks include severe breathing difficulties and, in rare cases, a drop in blood pressure. While a severe outcome such as death is theoretically possible, this has not occurred from medically supervised oral food challenges. The risk of a reaction is reduced by starting the challenge with very small amounts of food, administering the food over a prolonged time period, stopping the challenge at the first sign of a reaction and by not giving any food suspected to cause a major reaction.

Medications, personnel and equipment will be immediately available to treat allergic reactions should they occur.

  • Stop all antihistamines three days before the challenge (e.g. cetirizine, loratidine, fexofenadine, diphenhydramine).
  • Continue all asthma medications even on the day of the challenge.
  • Contact your doctor if you or your child has been on oral steroids (e.g. prednisone, prednisolone, etc.) in the two weeks prior to the challenge or has had to use a rescue inhaler (e.g. albuterol, levalbuterol) in the two days prior to the challenge.
  • Pack a bag with games, toys and DVDs to bring to the oral food challenge since you'll at the procedure for several hours.
  • Pack food that will be used for the challenge as instructed by your doctor.
  • Call before leaving for the challenge if you or your child develop a fever, nausea, vomiting, wheezing or other illness.
  • No food two hours prior to the challenge (clear liquids are okay).
  • Bring your epinephrine autoinjector to the procedure with you.

Our Innovative FACET Center

Food allergy is an epidemic that grows larger each year in the US and can be a source of constant anxiety for patients and their families. UChicago Medicine is leading the way in addressing this crisis.

We are the only institution in the Midwest pursuing research and conducting trials to improve diagnostics and revolutionize treatment for food allergies.

Thanks to support from our clinical care and research programs, our expert care team is able to:

  • Apply state-of-the-art diagnostics
  • Discover novel diagnostics
  • Implement innovative therapies
  • Trial experimental therapies

UChicago Medicine is dedicated to offering the most advanced food allergy treatment methods possible for adults, as well as infants, children and teens. We are proud to be home to:

  • World-class clinical and research faculty
  • A NIH-funded atopy prevention program
  • One of 10 Comprehensive Centers of Discovery for Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) Foundation
  • A NIH-funded food allergy and microbiome program
  • The lead institution for Midwest Allergy Research Initiative (MARI)
  • One of the only adult food allergy centers in the country
  • A pediatric and adult allergy and immunology fellowship program (2022)

In addition to high-level food allergy care and research, philanthropy enables UChicago faculty and scientists to forge new collaborations, impact food allergy policy and awareness and better serve historically marginalized and underrepresented populations.

Our FACET Center strives for advancements in food allergy discovery by:

  • Identifying advanced diagnostic techniques to replace current high-risk and poor performing methods
  • Accelerating immunotherapeutic approaches, including microbiome modulating therapies, to the treatment of food allergy

We committed to ensuring its comprehensive care and life-changing discoveries are available close to home. Thanks to clinical care and professional training, we are:

  • Expanding clinical services for both children and adults across Chicagoland
  • Developing best practices across the lifespan
  • Training the next generation of physicians and scientists to care for patients with food allergies

All patients deserve equal quality care, but a gap remains in understanding and access for many underserved populations in Chicago and around the world. Through policy development, we are:

  • Determining causes of food allergy-related morbidity and mortality with focus on underserved populations
  • Engaging local and national stakeholders to increase awareness, address disparities and support public entities

Request an Appointment

The information you provide will enable us to assist you as efficiently as possible. A representative will contact you within one to two business days to help you schedule an appointment.

To speak to someone directly, please call 1-888-824-0200. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

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