Managing Allergies at University

Heading to university is an exciting time, but you might come across new challenges if you have serious allergies. If you are leaving home for the first time, it might be the first time you’ve had to manage your allergies on your own, as you may have had family members to support you.

Find out how to prepare so that your allergies don’t hold you back.

Advice for Students

Our research has found that 16-24-year olds are in a high-risk group when it comes to managing allergies. Students often feel reluctant to share information about their allergies, they might resist carrying their adrenaline auto-injectors (AAI) and may experiment with foods they are allergic to. You might face challenges living in shared accommodation, managing your medication, or going out to restaurants or nights out.   

The information on these pages should help make this transition a bit easier.  

When Choosing a University

When looking round universities at their open days, talk to the staff about your allergies and what procedures and policies they have in place to help students manage their allergies.

It’s also wise to look at their shared housing options. Most universities have both catered and self-catered accommodation. Self-catered may be a safer option as you can control what you eat. But choose what feels best for you.

After Gaining Your Place at University

Now it’s time to get ready to go. Use these tips to help you prepare.

  • If you have chosen self-catered accommodation, learn to cook some meals. Have a few safe recipes in your repertoire so you don’t have to learn from scratch once you get there.
  • Ask if your university can provide you with a mini fridge for your room to keep your food free from cross-contamination.
  • Buy a medical alert bracelet or piece of jewellery. These have important medical information engraved onto them in case of emergencies, such as your allergies and how they need treating.
  • Get into the habit of checking food labels to make sure they are free from your allergens. Remember to check the ingredient lists every time you buy products, even if you know they are safe, as ingredients may change.
  • Take responsibility for booking doctor’s appointments and remember to pick up your adrenaline autoinjector prescriptions.
  • Have an adult allergy action plan ready (see below).
  • Get into the habit of checking the expiry dates of your adrenaline autoinjectors. You can sign up for the expiry alert service – check the manufacturer’s website for details.

Starting university 

Try these ideas to keep yourself safe and confident when you arrive at university. You can also read more about the psychological impact of anaphylaxis, our advice and some possible coping strategies.  

  • Educate your housemates

    Tell your housemates and friends about your allergies, what to do if you have a severe allergic reaction, and how to use your adrenaline device. You can order trainer pens to show them more easily.

    There are three adrenaline auto injectors (AAIs) available on prescription in the UK. 

  • Stay connected

    If your adrenaline auto-injector has an app, download it and ask your housemates and friends to do the same. This means that everyone has information on how to use the device as well as other helpful tips at the touch of a button.

  • Speak to staff

    Speak to the staff about your allergies and requirements, such as accommodation services, your personal tutor and catering staff if you are in catered accommodation.

  • Be prepared

    Label your allergen-free food and utensils to reduce the risk of cross-contamination & put up a poster on what to do in an emergency in your shared kitchen. You should also ensure to carry your adrenaline auto-injectors with you at all times and let the people you are with know where to find them.

    Click here to download a poster

  • Seek medical advice

    Sign up to the university medical centre and book an appointment to discuss your allergies.

  • Know the law 

    The European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation came into force on 13th December 2014. It states that restaurants need to provide information on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients. This includes foods sold without packaging or wrapped on site. They can give this information either verbally by a member of staff or written down, such as on a chalkboard.

  • Coping with your allergies 

    Being fully responsible for your allergies, perhaps for the first time in your life, can be daunting.  Anaphylaxis can be serious and unpredictable, and having to stay vigilant and living with the possibility of being in a life-threatening situation can cause anxiety.

Eating Out at University

Before you eat out 

  • Check the restaurant’s menu beforehand, if possible.  
  • Be aware of styles of food that traditionally contain things you are allergic to.   
  • Make sure the people going to the restaurant with you know about your allergies.  
  • Don’t assume a certain meal will be okay.  Always ask a member of staff if the meal is free from your allergen(s). 
  • Call ahead to ask the restaurant if they can cater for you. 

When you are at the restaurant, ask these questions:  

  • I have an allergy to [your allergen], can you cater for this?  
  • Can I see the allergen information?  
  • Can I, or can you, speak to the chef about how my meal is prepared?  
  • How is cross-contamination of my allergen prevented?  
  • Can you make a note about my allergy on my order?  
  • Can you confirm this meal is free from my allergen? 

Managing Your Allergies at University

Alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can make an allergic reaction more severe.

Recreational drugs and alcohol can affect your judgement. This means you might miss the early signs of a reaction and you and your friends might not take action in time.

Latex and milk can be found in many brands of condoms, which will be an issue if you have a latex or milk allergy. There are many non-latex or milk-free condoms available, just ask the manufacturer’s advice on which allergens may be used in production.

Kissing – allergens can remain in saliva for anywhere between two and 24 hours. Even brushing teeth before kissing may not get rid of allergens completely. If you have an allergy, always check with the other person if they have eaten food you may be allergic to. It might feel awkward, but it’s far better than having a serious reaction.

Make sure you store your adrenaline auto-injectors correctly. Keep them in their original containers to prevent light exposure, don’t store them above 25oC, and don’t freeze them. If you have an EpiPen, don’t store them in the fridge. Keep in mind that domestic fridges can sometimes freeze medications, and try not to put your bag with your auto-injectors in near radiators.

If you have an illness or have just recovered from one, this can put you at an increased risk of a serious allergic reaction.

Check the solution in your auto-injector through the viewing window. It should be clear and colourless. 

If you have a dust mite allergy, stock up on cleaning supplies and allergy-proof pillow and mattress casings to protect yourself from dust mites. Wash the pillow and mattress casings frequently.  

Avoid smoking. Many people with serious allergies have asthma. Smoking is likely to make asthma worse, and poorly-controlled asthma can make serious allergic reactions much more dangerous.

Be aware of your stress levels. Sleepless nights and stress brought on by a looming deadline can make you more vulnerable to a serious allergic reaction.

Set an alarm for the morning to remind you to take your adrenaline autoinjectors with you when you leave the house. 

Shared desks in the library can store allergens. Use wet wipes to clear away any inconspicuous crumbs and spills. 

Mould in student accommodation can be an issue if you have a mould allergy. If you have mould in your room, talk to your landlord or accommodation services to get this removed. To prevent mould forming, avoid drying clothes indoors, remove top soil from indoor plants, and open windows regularly to keep your room dry and well-ventilated – as contact with air can kill mould.

Placements abroad can be an exciting opportunity but can present challenges in terms of allergies. Click here for helpful tips and advice for travel.

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Get Wise with AllergyWise

AllergyWise is the easiest way to learn about anaphylaxis, the risks of severe allergies and how to manage them. You can learn from your home or at university, wherever and whenever it suits you.  

Our free and accredited AllergyWise e-learning courses are the perfect way to learn how to manage living with allergies in day-to-day life. You’ll also learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and know what to do in an emergency.