by Michael Thomson
I was roughly 2 years old when I was taken to hospital by my parents after having eaten a small piece of toast which had been smeared in peanut butter. This is how I discovered that I had a severe allergy to peanuts and eggs and, since then, I have carried EpiPens® wherever I go. 16 years on from then I was facing possibly the biggest challenge I had come up against, as I found out I was accepted into my university of choice.
There were many things I was nervous about regarding starting university, much like any other 18 year old. Could I handle the workload? Would I get along with my flatmates? Should I be trusted with all this money? However, the thing that stressed me out more than anything else were my allergies.
I didn’t want to be seen as irritating to people, as they couldn’t eat certain things around me, or impolite if someone offered me some food or a drink. I genuinely drove myself crazy in the build up to September thinking I wasn’t going to fit in. Fast forward to now, looking ahead at starting my second year, and I can honestly say that my first year at university was the most enjoyable time of my life, so far, and that stressing about allergies beforehand was unnecessary.
There are some pieces of advice that I think would be useful to anyone starting university in September if you are still feeling nervous about it.
The first step in dealing with allergies at university is to let people know at the first opportunity, especially your flatmates who you’ll be sharing cooking areas and fridge space with. It may seem weird to bring up but it provides a really good ice breaker because it stems into so many other questions.
Keeping your washing up stuff separate from everyone else’s creates an easy environment to bring up your allergies naturally; people will either ask about it themselves or you can bring it up.
Allergies also aren't always a negative thing, my flatmates were so cautious that they’d do something wrong that they never used any of my food, even down to packets of crisps which had little risk of cross-contamination, just in case. On top of that our kitchen was always the cleanest in our house because my flatmates wanted to make sure everything was okay for me!
The thing is that everyone starting university wants to fit in, so I found that everyone is really respectful of anything like allergies because they want to make friends too. So long as you’re reasonable and respectful everyone should reciprocate and you shouldn't have too many issues.
Another tip that worked for me was that, after I had settled in and met a few people from my house, I started making some jokes about my allergies. This not only made people more comfortable with the situation but also meant that it was brought up more often and therefore, within a couple of weeks most of my house were aware.
Buying food was also easy enough as by law 14 major allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list, so it’s easier to spot on the packet. Supermarkets seem to have taken a much bigger interest in providing foods for people with food intolerances and ‘allergy advice’ is improving.
The Nosh for Students cook book is also a must and includes a lot of easy dishes to make. While there are dishes that aren't suitable for certain allergens, there are still plenty to choose from which was great. I’d also recommend the app FoodMaestro which updates you when supermarkets change their allergy advice on their products.
Another prominent factor in the first year of university is going out clubbing and there are some key tips to remember before you head out.
The number one rule is to make sure you’re out with someone who knows about your allergies so that if something happened the situation can be dealt with more effectively. Prior to that, if you’re planning on drinking in another friend’s flat before you go out it’s a good idea to have plastic cups so you can avoid using other people’s glasses as you never know what they could have had in there.
Possibly the hardest part of the night out if you have allergies is avoiding the food from fast food outlets or turning down food that others offer you (or at least it feels like the hardest part at the time) but again it’s not worth risking it and you’d probably regret it in the morning anyway. If you can’t beat the late night cravings it would be worth keeping some things at your flat which you can snack on when you get back.
I personally was nervous about this part of university life before going but I found it’s really easy to make sure you’re safe going out by doing the things I just mentioned. From my experience too, my friends at university often let people know about my allergies before I had chance to on a night out, so that also really helped me.
Living with allergies is never going to be perfect but by being considerate of others and being careful in general you can severely reduce the chances of having a reaction. I’m 19 now and since being told about my allergies I have managed to avoid having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), even after starting university, which was something I was very worried about before going.
Now with that experience of university life I can say that my allergies definitely weren’t something that I should have been worrying about to the extent that I did prior to starting in September. Hopefully this information and advice is useful to some of you starting university soon. Despite my allergies I loved my first year at uni, I’m sure you will too!
For advice on severe allergies, visit the Anaphylaxis Campaign website www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/living-with-anaphylaxis/young-people or drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org / 01252 542029 /@ACOutthere/@Anaphylaxiscoms
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Friday, 21 April 2017
I am 21 years old and have had severe allergies to milk, egg and nuts my whole life. Of course this has not made life easy, but often I have found the social stigma surrounding allergies more irritating than avoiding the food itself.
Upon hearing about my allergies, people typically respond with “oh god your life must be so hard” or “but I love cheese!” or my favourite line, “I would literally kill myself if I couldn’t eat chocolate”. I know they don’t mean to be hurtful, but it really grates. Would you adopt the same approach to someone who was wheelchair bound? We would never dream of saying “I can’t believe you don’t know how good it is to walk!”
People, understandably, don’t realise that I have a very varied diet. In fact, I am sure my friends could account for the fact that I am pretty much always eating. Food is one of my main passions. So it has always been frustrating that people seem to assume that I live on a diet of dry cereal and bread.
I can also be self-conscious of people thinking I am rude when it comes to being careful about cross-contamination. Sorry, person I have just met, but I can’t share my food with you because you have just had a packet of Wotsits! It feels awkward. Again, I am fearful of coming across annoying when a friend makes me a cup of tea and I have to pester them to make sure they don’t put a milky spoon in my drink.
However I have tried to turn these gripes into something positive. I understand that having allergies is something people find interesting. When appropriate, I try to use my allergies as a talk-point; a way to make small talk with people I’ve just met. If I freely talk about having allergies, I stop feeling embarrassed and people don’t have a chance to sound ignorant.
Living with food allergies will always be a challenge, but it definitely isn’t something to be embarrassed about.
Friday, 10 February 2017
Taylor talks to us about the challenges Valentine’s Day can bring if you have multiple severe allergies.
2017 Year of the Adult
“My name is Taylor, I'm 23 years old, live in Greenwich, London. I have chronic spontaneous urticaria angioedema anaphylaxis.
I've been with my boyfriend over four years now and suffer with severe allergies to lots of things. I'm allergic to plants, trees and grass. Especially flowers! I'm allergic to nuts and chocolate and many other food allergens. My boyfriend and I have to adapt and work round my allergies. I'm also allergic to alcohol, so I am allergic to most things to do with Valentine's Day.
My boyfriend has put me into anaphylaxis a number of times from kissing me after he had ate something earlier that day that I'm allergic to.
Note from the Anaphylaxis Campaign, please read our top tips for staying safe whilst kissing :-).
Note from the Anaphylaxis Campaign, please read our top tips for staying safe whilst kissing :-).
However we still have lots of fun, I'll prepare all my own food beforehand if we're going away for a day trip or for a night away. We've gone to the zoo a lot or to farms as I love animals and we've gone skiing. If we have gone to hotel, my boyfriend will eat what I can physically be around and then he will brush his teeth and disinfect himself not to cause any cross contamination. We'll go for bike rides or swimming and we love the fair or anything historic. We go for a lot of nights away in hotels across the UK, (I'll prepare and pack my own food). I couldn't really imagine anything different as we have to be so careful and plan ahead it's become the norm.
We love each other's company and live a very happy, loving and fun love life. It's just a bit more tailored and carefully planned than your average relationship.”
If you would like to share your story of living with severe allergies as a young adult please drop an email to email@example.com.
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Fifteen year old Meghan Gayler only discovered her allergy to peanuts last year after going into anaphylactic shock from eating a Chinese with friends. Here, she describes how it felt.
Most people find out they have an allergy in the first couple of years of their life, however I discovered mine last summer at the age of 15.
It began last summer during our end of Mock exam celebrations with friends. We had decided to order a Chinese to enjoy all together but it certainly wasn't enjoyable after a couple of minutes into the food. I decided to try Satay sauce as I had never tried it before and wanted to see if I’d like it.
I put a piece of Chicken covered in Satay sauce onto my plate and licked my finger as I got sauce on my finger. This was the first sign. My lips were tingling like mad and my throat and mouth were filled with an itching sensation that even water couldn't take away. I decided to carry on eating the food, but within an hour, full anaphylaxis had taken its toll. I was experiencing wheezing, hives, watery eyes, difficulty breathing and felt very anxious, something I had never experienced before. Soon after this, the breathing got worse and an ambulance was called. Nothing had ever happened like this before hence I had no EpiPen on hand. After 2 shots of adrenaline and a nebuliser helping with the breathing, the reaction finally calmed down.
After going through the awful experience of anaphylactic shock last year I have now discovered through allergy testing that I suffer from a severe allergy to peanuts that I had unbelievably coped with for 15 years. I now understand how serious allergies need to be taken as I’d hate for more people to go through the horrible experience of anaphylaxis. It has changed the life I live as going out to eat can feel as if the waiters think I’m being awkward but I’m certain it wouldn't be a pretty sight if they misunderstood. Even if I can't enjoy some of my favourite snacks anymore, better safe than sorry!