Starting university, especially with an allergy, can be daunting. It’s usually your first time moving away from home, and University is filled with new experiences, as well as new friends and flatmates who don’t yet know about your allergy. It’s important to reduce your risk of allergic reaction, but there’s no need to worry – I graduated from the University of Huddersfield in 2015 after studying Graphic Design, and I’m here to reassure you that your allergy shouldn’t get in the way of your University experience this September.
I thought long and hard about what I, as someone with a severe nut allergy, would want to know in your position. So here are my top tips…
Be vocal about your allergy
When I moved into my student accommodation I was living with eight complete strangers – it was quite scary at first, but after a few days I settled in and got to know my housemates. It’s so important to tell your new housemates about your allergy so they understand how serious it is, and more importantly, to make sure they always clean up after themselves so there’s no cross-contamination in the kitchen. Which brings me to my second point…
Sharing a kitchen
Students are renowned for being messy but it’s especially important that your housemates clean up after themselves if they cook with something you’re allergic to. When I moved into my student accommodation, I brought a mini fridge along with me to keep in my room. This made me feel a lot more at ease, knowing there wouldn’t be cross-contamination in the communal fridge, so I’d definitely suggest doing this if you can.
Get a trainer pen
I would recommend getting hold of a tester adrenaline auto-injector (AAI) so you can educate your housemates on what it is and how to use it. I found that other students were really understanding and curious to find out about it, and showing them what to do if you have a severe allergic reaction is much better than simply telling them as they could forget. You could also leave a spare AAI in your kitchen cupboard so they know where one is at all times, just in case.
Catered or self-catered accommodation?
Some halls of residence come with a catering team, and if you’re thinking about taking advantage of this, make sure to call beforehand to check they cater for people with allergies. I decided to go self-catering so I would have more control and could be sure that what I was eating was safe. I wanted to reduce my anxiety as I’ve always felt safer cooking food myself, so if you’re the same, I’d recommend self-catering.
Watch out for cocktails that contain nuts
There were a number of times where cocktails nearly caught me out and I was so close to having an allergic reaction. Once at university my friend ordered me a drink which contained a few different spirits, so I decided to double check with the bar staff to see if it contained nuts. I was surprised to hear it contained almonds, but it showed me you should always go with your gut feeling.
What was even more shocking was that after that, another student swiped my drink from the bar and took a sip. I later found out, through a friend, that she had a nut allergy too and had an allergic reaction. Please never take someone else’s drink from the bar because you don’t know whether it contains nuts, or if the person who drank it last recently ate nuts – it’s definitely not worth the risk. Also, always check with the bar staff when drinking cocktails, and if you’re not confident with their response, try to speak to the manager instead.
Should you ask someone if they’ve eaten nuts on a night out?
Freshers is just around the corner – that usually involves alcohol and meeting lots of new people. There might be a time when you’ve just met a girl/guy, you’re getting on really well… should you ask them if they’ve eaten nuts or not?!
If someone has just eaten nuts and you go in for a kiss, you’re most likely going to have an allergic reaction; I’ve heard of this happening to other allergy sufferers. My advice to you is to always ask. I’d usually ask in a jokey way and they would just laugh it off and say they haven’t eaten nuts – it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
To sum up, going to university with an allergy shouldn’t be scary, it’s a fun and exciting time where you meet lots of new people and make amazing memories that stay with you for a lifetime. Just remember to always be vocal about your allergy, and never feel embarrassed to speak up about it – I promise you, people are very understanding when you explain to them why it’s so serious.
Finally, always go with your gut feeling. If you feel that bar or restaurant staff don’t understand how serious your allergy is, then don’t eat or drink there. My gut feeling has saved me a lot in the past – I always trust it because nine times out of ten it’s right!
If you want to find out more about living with an allergy make sure to check out my Instagram at @_maycontain or also find more content on my blog at https://www.may-contain.com/ Make sure to check out all the amazing content on Anaphylaxis at https://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/schools/universities/allergies-at-university/