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Talking About Your Allergies With Your New Roommates

talking about food allergies at university or college with your new roommates

Going off to college or university for the first time is a big moment in your young adult life. You're probably anxious, excited, and a little nervous. Meeting your new roommates means making new friends, setting up a new home, and getting settled in to your new routine. Yep, there's a whole lotta' new. It's understandable that you might be unsure about how to broach the topic of your food allergies with your new friends and roommates, but it is an important subject that requires their full education, especially if you're moving into apartment-style residence. 

In my experience the best way to bring it up is to talk about it right away on the first day. Make up a chart listing your allergens, other common names they go by, and foods they are commonly found in. Print off enough copies for all of your roommates and tape one to a common element such as a shared fridge.

Also prepare yourself to talk about your anaphylaxis action plan. Nothing fancy is needed here, and I'm sure you know how best to talk about this aspect of yourself. Explain how a reaction can occur (for example, through cross-contact), what a reaction looks like and how yours generally progress, where you keep your epinephrine, and how to administer it. Let them know that in the event of an anaphylactic reaction they will need to follow your action plan and call an ambulance. 

Be clear about cross-contact and shared foods, surfaces, cosmetics, skincare, etc. Some people are relaxed about drinking from the carton, sticking their hand into a box of cookies, or swigging from the mouthwash. Let them know that this type of behavior is not safe for their allergic roommate. It might be handy to label your products or keep them in a separate cupboard. 

Cleaning is always a touchy topic among roommates, but is nonetheless very important for your safety. Crumbs, spills, and other "contamination" is dangerous for you if you have allergies. Your family is likely very careful about keeping surfaces clean for your safety, but for an untrained roommate this could be a learning curve. Try to instate a cleaning schedule or regimen from week one if possible, and keep plenty of cleaner on hand. Sometimes you might have to do the brunt of the cleaning and although it totally sucks, it is worth it for your safety. 

Inform your residence floor admin (or don, or supervisor, or whatever your school calls that person) about your allergies. They should be informed of your action plan as well, and all safety procedures. 

Bring plenty of safe snacks to keep in your room. You undoubtedly know that it's important to always be prepared, as food security is not a guarantee when you have food allergies. Stock up on your favorite trusted products so that you're never left in the lurch! 

Project confidence when talking about your allergies. Starting at a new school is a fresh start and your chance to create an impactful first impression. If you talk about your allergies with confidence, you are more likely to be heard. I know it can be difficult and sometimes embarrassing to feel like the "allergy police" but it's so necessary and people are often more receptive than you think!