Category Archives: Allergies and University/College

A Forced First Impression…Food Allergy Style

As a 26 year old, I have had to inform dozens, if not hundreds of people about my allergies thus far in my lifetime. This one story definitely stood out to me ahead of the rest.

Business Team Meeting Seminar Training ConceptI was sitting in a university lecture on the first day of class. It was an elective and there was someone in the class who I didn’t know very well from a different program. She put up her hand to inform the Professor and her fellow colleagues about her allergy to citrus including oranges and bananas. She went on to say that if these food items were brought to class and peeled it would cause her a serious migraine.

I was pretty impressed by how forward she was about her allergies. I generally inform my friends, and people sitting around me should they decide to start munching on one of my allergens. Nonetheless, there was no judgement in her proclamation, but rather I noted what she said and thought the class would carry on normally.

I had a few friends in the class with me and they began to nudge me and whispered the following in my ear, “you should say something about your allergies”, “yeah, you should speak up”. Again, as I previously said, I do try to keep my allergies on a need-to-know basis, especially since we are talking about a lecture hall full of people.

Well, obviously, my professor noticed that there was a bit of a kerfuffle and asked if everything was okay. My response was the following: “Well, I just wanted to add that I also have allergies. I am severely allergic to nuts. I don’t really see it being an issue in class unless someone eats nuts and then makes out with me. So, yeah. Let’s try and avoid that at all costs.”

There was an outbreak of nervous laughter and the professor was stunned. After a brief moment, he thanked me for sharing and carried on with the program. Can you say AWKWARD!? It was quite the way to make a first impression.

– Nicole K.

Top 10 Tips for Going to University/College with Food Allergies

Going away to school is a really exciting time for any student but for those at-risk for anaphylaxis, it can come along with a unique set of challenges. Since some college and university programs start in January, here are some tips to make the transition to this new part of your life as easy and as safe as possible!

Late night study, student desk in low light.

  1. Talk to food services

With the wide variety of dietary restrictions that students at university/college have, most food services have policies in place and are very accommodating to student needs. Go chat with the staff at food services at your school to discuss things such as ingredient lists, if they serve your allergen, cross-contamination risks, and how they can help you eat safely!

  1. Learn about your options for residence

For those that will be living on campus, like many students do in first year, you can get in touch with those who organize residence living. Often students with food allergies are able to get a single room more easily or even a room with a kitchen so they can cook their own meals!

  1. Tell your roommate in advance

If you chose to not live in a single room it is important to give your roommate(s) a heads up about your food allergies! You are usually given their contact information the summer before heading to school, so send them a quick email when introducing yourself to let them know about your allergies. You can discuss how you prefer to manage your allergies and come up with some friendly ground rules along with other general living guidelines for your time together.

  1. Tell your new friends

You will be making a ton of new friends when you get to university/college and none of them will know about your food allergies unless you tell them! It is easiest to just tell them right off the bat so that you don’t get stuck in any tricky situations and you can feel safe knowing you have people nearby who are aware of your situation.

  1. Talk to your residence advisor

Most schools will have a residence advisor who is an upper year student that lives on your floor and ensures everyone is safe and following residence rules. Usually during your orientation week, they will have a floor meeting for everyone to meet each other. It is a good idea to talk to your advisor prior to this meeting so they are aware of your allergies and so they can let everyone else know that someone on the floor has an allergy. This can save you some of the trouble of letting everyone know yourself! If you don’t want to be singled out as “the kid with allergies” you can even ask them not to identify you.

Shiny bright red miniature fridge

  1. Get your own snacks and a mini fridge

This is an essential for most students in residence but even more so for those with food allergies. Investing in a mini fridge is a great option to ensure that you have some safe foods as a go-to at all times! Go to the grocery store with some friends and get yourself breakfast foods, snacks, etc.

  1. Bring lots of auto-injectors

If you are going away to school somewhere that isn’t so close to your hometown it is likely that your family doctor, allergist, and pharmacy will all be inaccessible at times. Make sure that you have a good stock of auto-injectors (check the expiry date) with you so you can keep one in your backpack, one in your room, etc.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things

Having a food allergy may feel like it limits where you can go to eat, doing extra curricular activities, and making new friends but it shouldn’t stop you from doing anything! Going away to school is the best time to get involved, try new activities, and meet new people. There is always a way to accommodate for your allergies in whatever you are doing to make sure you are living safely.

  1. Find others with allergies

When I went away to school there just so happened to be two other girls on my floor who had food allergies. Getting to know them made it a lot easier to live with my allergies at school as we could go get food together, talk about what places were safe to eat, and share tips with each other.

  1. Become truly independent

For most people going away to school is the first time they will be living on their own and away from parents. This will test your ability to be truly independent in managing your allergies as you won’t have your friends or family from home to be there for support. Take this time to learn how to live safely with your allergies all on your own!

– Lindsay S.

*Webinar: Managing food allergy in college/university

June 25 @ 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT

Join us for a lively webinar led by a panel of post-secondary students with food allergies as they impart their tips and best practices for managing food allergy in college/university settings.

Register today!

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: Recognizing the Signs of an Allergic Reaction

iStock_000020351292_SmallIt started with some hives. A few here or there, maybe on my arms or a bit on my chest. I never really thought much of it. To be clear, this all happened when I was living in residence at Algonquin College. The reason why I never really thought much of it was because the place where I was living was less than clean. The carpets seemed to be always dusty no matter how many times we vacuumed or dusted, there was permanent grime on the tiled floors, and the air quality was less than desirable. I thought it must have been my seasonal allergies or my dust allergy so I bought a dehumidifier and thought I would be done with it. But nope, my hives still came at least three a week. So I opted to start using a new shampoo and conditioner. Still nothing, they were persistent little buggers who would last for hours. Only now they seemed like they were spreading. I told myself it was because I was scratching them non-stop and that’s why they were spreading. I was starting to get fed up with these little red dots! I had changed so many aspects of my life and it was not getting any better.

I had never suspected it might be the food I was eating. Prior to going to college, I had contacted the school about the cafe in the residence. I was told it was safe for my peanut and tree nut allergy. The meals served in the cafe were mostly basic pastas and meat dishes that I had nothing to really worry about.

But when I started making notes of everything I did on the days I would get these hives, it always coincided with me eating meals at the cafe. Now, I was starting to get worried, why would they assure me it was safe if it wasn’t? When I spoke with the manager of the cafe in residence they told me they don’t use any peanuts or tree nuts or nut oils. But the containers they use they get from the big cafe on campus. He put me in touch with the manager and I was on my way.

At first it was hard to get a straight answer from them, but I finally got down to the nitty gritty and realized that the same pans used for the food in my cafe, were being used in various other parts of the cafe containing peanuts and tree nuts. They weren’t being cleaned well enough and the residue was affecting me enough to cause the hives.

I was stunned, annoyed, angry, and a million other emotions. How could such little residue cause such a big reaction? I’ve always known the dangers of cross contamination, but this took the cake. I should have paid more attention to the signs, and not brushed off the hives as something less serious. Hives are a pretty big sign that something is not right. It took a few months of continuous hives before I took matters into my own hands and found out why. The staff tried to assure me that they would take better precaution with food prep, but I was too scared from the hives to eat at the cafe anymore. I bought some allergen-safe foods to cook in my own room and said goodbye to the cafe.

I learned a very important lesson that year in college, never ignore a sign. However small or large, it is important to recognize when something is wrong and attempt to correct it.

– Arianne K.