March 30, 2017, by Chloe
Living with allergies at university
The title of this blog post won’t come as a surprise to anybody who knows me in real life, as sadly/humorously my defining character trait is ‘nut allergy’. Countless times over the years, when asked to give an unusual fact about myself, I’ve gone with the line ‘I’m allergic to everything’, which isn’t quite true but feels like it might as well be most of the time… I’ve had my allergy for over 10 years and I know how to deal with it. Yet before coming to university, I remember feeling slightly terrified about how to deal with the huge responsibility of being fully responsible for my own health.
This post is primarily intended to help incoming students who are worried about managing their own allergies at university, just like I was a year ago. Obviously I am not a health professional and I’m only sharing my own experiences/tips. If you are seriously worried don’t forget that the university has excellent GPs and counselling services who can better advise you on the best course of action. Anaphylaxis.org.uk also has a great page on dealing with allergies at university which I would definitely recommend checking out.
The big concern – where to live?
Choosing between self-catered or catered is an important choice for anybody but an even bigger choice for those with allergies. Catered accommodation can provide food for people with major allergies and there should be some variety of choice, but if you have several allergies or more unusual ones you may prefer to go self-catered.
- Cook your own food – know exactly what’s gone into it
- More variety
- Peace of mind
- Student kitchens generally aren’t the cleanest places, so be prepared for a lot of cleaning before prepping your food
- There will probably be allergens in the fridge or communal areas
- Somebody else does the hard work for you
- Not having to worry about a dirty kitchen
- Lack of variety
- Less control
I personally live in self-catered accommodation as I like the control I have over what I’m eating as well as the fact I can cater for my slightly weirder allergies. Here are some tips I have for living in self-catered halls in first year:
- Tell your flatmates about your allergy ASAP (preferably before the term starts if you find them on Facebook). Let them know what to do if you have a reaction and where your medication is kept.
- Ask for a separate shelf in the fridge/freezer as well as your own cupboard. One near the top helps to prevent cross-contamination.
- This one may be a bit more extreme, but I use my own washing up bowl to prevent having to share dirty water. Generally, keep your tea towels and cooking equipment separate so they aren’t used with allergens and make sure everything is washed up fully.
Living with somebody with an allergy:
My number one piece of advice if you find yourself sharing a flat with somebody with an allergy is be considerate. They are probably feeling embarrassed about having to constantly check things are okay for them and may feel like a bit of a burden. By ensuring that their stuff remains separate and protected as well as listening to their concerns will make for a much nicer living environment. Don’t forget that there are different levels to allergies, so just because one person with an allergy might be okay with touching an allergen doesn’t mean another person will be, so always check with the person in question and don’t assume – they’ll know their allergy best!
Don’t let your allergy put you off living at university. A medical alert chain is a great thing to invest in as it brings peace of mind when eating in new places or on nights out with people you have only just met and might not be aware of your allergy. Make sure you keep any medication up to date and carry it with you if applicable. Let the university/accommodation provider/medical professional know if you have any concerns.
If you have any further questions for me, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments!