College is an exciting time, full of new possibilities and new friendships. If you have a life-threatening food or latex allergy, it may also feel overwhelming. Whether you're beginning freshman year or your final semester, successfully managing food and latex allergies at college begins with preparation and communication.
"Preparing for the transition to college begins well before moving on to campus," says Tonya Winders, MBA, CEO and President of Allergy & Asthma Network, the leading patient education nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the needless death and suffering due to asthma and allergies. "Schedule an appointment with your board-certified allergist and obtain an updated Anaphylaxis Action Plan. Share any concerns about moving to a new environment and discuss how to be prepared for the unexpected."
"If your epinephrine auto-injectors are expiring, ask for a prescription refill," Winders adds. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
"Search for food or latex allergy resources on campus," says Nicholas Ditzler, founder of the Student Food Allergy Network, a student-run organization that raises awareness of food allergies on campus, with chapters at the University of Michigan, University of Virginia and Oregon State University. "I recommend students discuss their needs and concerns with the dining hall chef and dietitian before classes begin; don't wait for the first week of school. A proactive and persistent approach ensures effective communication with dining hall staff. I was surprised by how much people were willing to help once they became aware of and understood the severity of my allergies."
"Carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with you everywhere, every day, and use one right away at the first sign of symptoms," says Dr. Maeve O’Connor,board-certified allergist with Allergy Asthma & Immunology Relief in Charlotte and ACE team volunteer. "Call 911 for an ambulance to take you to the hospital for follow-up care, including a second dose of epinephrine if needed."
Provide the residential hall adviser with your Anaphylaxis Action Plan and talk with your roommates and friends about your allergy. "Teach them how to use an epinephrine auto-injector, in case you are unable to administer it yourself,"O’Connor adds.
Allergy & Asthma Network offers the following tips on preparing for college life with life-threatening allergies:
· Discuss with the dining services staff:
o Your allergies and dietary accommodations
o Potential cross-contamination during food preparation and solutions such as cooking meals on a separate grill
o Alternate meal suggestions
o Campus food service locations that provide accommodations
Share concerns with your residential hall adviser and create inclusive strategies for residence hall events.
Do not eat food if you are unsure of its ingredients or how it was cooked. If you're of legal age, this goes for alcoholic beverages, too.
Many people are unfamiliar with latex allergy. Visit www.AllergyAsthmaNetwork.org and www.LatexAllergyResources.orgfor resources to distribute to dining hall staff, biology and chemistry lab coordinators, administrative staff, and others.
Speak with the dining hall chef about cross-reactive foods containing proteins similar to those found in latex. Ask that staff use non-latex gloves when preparing meals.
Request all decorative balloons on campus be made of Mylar instead of latex.
· Ask your allergist for a referral letter addressing the severity of your allergies and provide the letter to university staff when requesting accommodations.
· If dining services are unable to accommodate your dietary restrictions, contact the disability services office at your school and request a campus apartment or dorm with a kitchen so you can prepare your own meals.
· Connect with the on-campus doctor or nurse who can help you manage your food or latex allergy while at school.