FRIDAY, Nov. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Most colleges don't have comprehensive programs to support students with food allergies, putting them at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions, according to a new study.

"Our study found that while many colleges offer support for students with food allergy in the dining hall, the same support doesn't carry over to organized sports, dormitories or social events" said lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University.

"That leaves students feeling vulnerable and scrambling to inform all the various departments of their needs," she added in a news release from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

The study also found that students with food allergies are willing to help educate others on campus about food allergies.

"Parents tell us they need to educate everyone, literally everyone -- professors, other students, the librarian and the person putting food on your kid's plate," Gupta said. "Giving a student support from peers, staff and the college itself is critical in providing a safe and positive environment."

The research was to be presented Nov. 11 at the annual meeting of the ACAAI in San Francisco. Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary, because it has not been subject to peer review.

In the news release, Dr. David Stukus of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, explained how fellow allergists can help students with allergies safely adapt to college.

Stukus said teens are the age group at highest risk for life-threatening food allergy reactions. Usually, it's because they don't have epinephrine with them all the time. Epinephrine is a powerful drug -- found in the widely used Epipen -- that helps curb sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions.

College students with allergies, "also face social pressures that cause them to not speak up when dining with peers," he said.

Stukus said those with food allergies need to understand the symptoms of an allergic reaction. "College students must know how and when to use epinephrine auto-injectors, how to read labels and what to communicate to food handlers," he said in the release. "They must also have epinephrine available at all times in case of accidental ingestion leading to a severe allergic reaction."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on food allergies.