Food Allergies in Adult Life: College and Beyond
It’s no secret by now, at least to the allergic community, that adults can have food allergies too. However, most of the resources for navigating allergies are geared toward children and young teens, leaving adults out of the equation. Being a young adult living with food allergies all while navigating college, I’ve learned and am here to share some of my most useful tips and tricks for living with food allergies as you leave high school and enter a new world: being an adult.
If you’re entering college with one or more roommates, one of the first things you should tell them about is your allergies. Let them know what your personal comfort level is in terms of if they can have your allergens around or not, and if so, how they should go about it to keep you safe. Some people may not be okay with potentially modifying their diet for you, and as unfortunate as that is, it just goes to show that they aren’t the roommate for you! The people you’re living with should respect your allergies, want to keep you safe, and should be open to education. Make sure the people you choose are willing to respect your decisions in terms of safety. You don’t want to keep people around who don’t, anyway.
Don’t be embarrassed to train your roommate(s) and friends on how to use your auto-injector. In the beginning, I was a bit afraid to train my roommates because I thought that they might think that I was annoying or neurotic about my safety. With that being said, I quickly realized that my safety is more important than anything, and my roommates needed to be trained on how to use my Auvi-Q if I ever ended up in a situation where I couldn’t do it myself. I wasn’t sure how they’d react, but they were all very intrigued and responsive. They loved taking turns using my Trainer Auvi-Q on themselves and me. This gave me a chance to educate them on when to use it, what to do afterward, and how to tell if/when I need an additional dose if help hasn’t arrived yet. They even asked a bunch of questions and one of my roommates said that my Auvi-Q was “cool.” Don’t hesitate to show those who will be around you the most how to help you in an emergency. Trust me, even college-aged students who have never seen an auto-injector before are extremely fascinated by one!
Another tip is to bring your own personal set of any kitchen items you’ll want for you and only you. For me personally, my roommates and I all share kitchenware that can be easily and thoroughly cleaned, such as plates, bowls, utensils, etc. However, in places where your allergen may be present but cannot be adequately removed afterward, it’s best to have two sets of these items: one for your roommate(s) and one for you. For example, my roommates all love to eat toasted bagels with sesame seeds or toast bread that contains nuts, both of which I am allergic to. Because toasters are nearly impossible to clean, my apartment has two; one for them to share and one for only me, labeled with my name and a note about my allergies. It’s a very smart idea to bring your own set of designated kitchen items that you may want just for yourself.
Invest in a slim running belt or fanny pack to hold your epinephrine and other medications. In college or at work, you’re always on the go and may not want to carry a purse, backpack, or have your meds bouncing around in your pocket all the time. This is why it’s a great idea to have a hands-free place to put them. I keep two Auvi-Qs in a purse that I use for short outings where an annoying strap and constant swinging of my purse won’t really get in the way, such as shopping trips or going to a friend's house. I keep my other two Auvi-Qs in a SpiBelt, which I keep in my backpack during classes and then wear it to places where my purse would be in the way if I had to carry it, like a party, a concert, or hiking.
Once you get to be of legal drinking age*, you want to be prepared. Alcohol can be a big part of socialization in college and adult life, and you don’t want to experience any allergic reactions because of it. Because alcoholic beverages are regulated by the TTB and not the FDA, ingredients and nutrition labels are not required. This may mean that allergens can be hiding in a drink and you don’t even know. Many alcohols contain gluten and some even contain tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, milk, and more! I would recommend contacting the brand manufacturer ahead of time to inquire about ingredients in specific drinks of interest. When in doubt, only drink something with the ingredients labeled, or skip that drink and get something else. I promise you, no one cares if they’re drinking alcohol and you’re having Sprite.
Consider some form of MedicAlert ID. Being away at college or in the workforce, you’re not going to have your parents or caregivers around as much anymore. If you have any sort of medical condition, it’s a good idea to have some form of identification so emergency personnel will become aware of this, especially if you are not able to speak and your parents aren’t there to help you. This will allow medical professionals to care for you more appropriately. List any allergies that you have, especially if they can be in medications that may be given in the hospital. MedicAlert IDs come in so many forms so there’s something for everyone! You can get anything from a necklace to a bracelet to a watchband to a shoelace tag. I personally have mine printed on my Apple Watch band, which is extremely convenient because I wear it every day.
Be safe and have fun! There’s no doubt that having allergies as a child and teen is hard, but having allergies arguably becomes even harder to live with as you enter adulthood and college. Your parents aren’t always there to help you, and the large majority of maintaining your safety single-handedly becomes your own responsibility. This can get stressful at times, and sometimes I still find myself wishing that I had my mom with me again to talk to chefs and managers at restaurants or cook all my safe foods! Although taking care of your allergies by yourself can be difficult, it’s also a valuable experience. I have become so much more independent and confident in managing my allergies than I was when I lived with my parents. Successfully keeping yourself safe on your own is such a liberating and reassuring experience. If some of your top priorities are being safe while still having fun, then I think you’re definitely ready for whatever is in store for you next!
*I do not condone underage drinking. I am only giving tips to those who wish to drink alcohol once they reach 21 years of age.