Emily Park

Handling an Allergic Reaction in College

This post is written by Brittany, she is currently a Sophomore studying at Vanderbilt University. She has peanut and soy allergies and recently became a Nima College Ambassador.

Lots of anxieties loom when a student moves away to college. I had plenty of the usual concerns – will I find good friends, will I find a major I love, will my cat still love me if I leave her for 9 months out of the year – the typical college student worries. But above all of those, there were always the additional fears due to my allergies. The ugliest of those worries for me was: what will I do if I have an allergic reaction?

Obviously, the first, best way to address this fear is to do everything possible to prevent a reaction: find an allergy-friendly college, work with the dining staff to ensure your meals are as safe as possible, and use your Nima sensor to double check the safety of your food. I did all of these things (and more!), and for the first year and a half of college, I didn’t have any allergic reactions.

Then, several weeks ago, I had my first allergic reaction at college. Everything had been done right – I picked up my meal from the allergy chef, who followed protocol, I tested my food for peanuts and got a smiley face – but still, soy somehow made its way  into my meal, and my body reacted. I know from personal experience that even with prevention and caution, sometimes the worst happens.

This is my advice for how to prepare for and cope with it when it does.

*Disclaimer: always follow the advice of your doctor or allergist on this topic first and foremost!

The following is what I would recommend based on my experience as a college student with multiple allergies:

Trust Yourself

First of all, trust your body to tell you when something is wrong! If you feel symptoms of an allergic reaction, don’t doubt yourself or wait. Take steps to protect and help yourself. Sometimes this can be hard when you are already feeling like you’re being overly paranoid, or if you’re in a situation (like a meal with new friends) where there is social pressure not to do anything.

But remember this – you know your own body best, and you will know when you need to take care of yourself. And even if it is a false alarm, caution is better than ignoring your own warning signs! Trust yourself and do what you need to do to be healthy and safe.

Have the Medicine and Products You Need

Always be ready in advance for an allergic reaction. That means having all the medicine that you’ll need with you and in an easily-accessible place. For me, that means having lots of Benadryl and at least one EpiPen on me at all times. Keep the stuff you need with you, even when you’re going out or on your way to class. You can even get yourself a fun backpack or purse, a coat with lots of pockets, or a fanny pack – whatever works for you! Just make sure that your medicine isn’t expired or damaged, and have back-ups in case you lose anything!

Have a Plan

Create an allergic reaction emergency plan in your head, or write it down to have it on hand. Think about what you will need to do, and what you will need to remember in the scary moment when your body is going into a reaction.

What do you need to do first, who will you talk to first, where will everything be that you need? Where is the nearest hospital if you need one, and how will you get there? Answer these questions explicitly, even if the answers seem obvious. Working with your doctor on this plan is also a good idea, and will help make sure you cover all possibilities.

Build your Support System

Talk to the people you trust about what will happen if you have an allergic reaction, and what they can do to help. When you move into your dorm, inform your Residential Advisor and your roommate about what they will need to do if you have a reaction. Find supportive friends, and walk them through your allergic reaction emergency plan so they can be there for you.

If your classes involve a situation where you could have a reaction, inform your professors about the situation and what might happen (this isn’t always applicable, but just keep it in mind!). These kind of conversations aren’t very fun, and it can be tempting to never talk to anyone about heavy things like serious allergic reactions, but consider doing it! If you feel safe sharing your personal medical information, then it can be so good to have people around you who know how to help. In my allergic reaction scare, my friends were my saving grace, so I encourage you to talk to people you trust about all of this in advance!

Finally, try not to worry about having an allergic reaction all the time. Easier said than done, trust me, I know. But once you’ve double checked your supplies, gone over your emergency plan and talked to your people about what to do – don’t let yourself freak out over the possibility of an allergic reaction. Most likely, you will prevent yourself from ever having one if you are cautious and work with the people around you. But even if you do have a reaction, you know what to do to handle it. You are ready, and you will be ok. So go out and enjoy college (with your EpiPen in your bag, of course)!

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Love Brittany’s post? Here are a few more empowering posts by Nima community members:

What Celiac Disease Taught Me About Fitness

How to Get Started with a Gluten-free Diet

What Do You Do If You Accidentally Get Glutened

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