If you are sending your student off to college with food allergies, you may be concerned. Of course, your degree of concern will depend on the degree of seriousness of your student’s allergies. One thing to keep in mind is that managing these allergies is probably not new for your student. He may have had practice for many years.
If your student has not taken the lead on managing his allergies before now, do all that you can to let him be in charge while he is still living at home. Make him responsible for reading food labels, taking medication, monitoring symptoms, etc. This will give him the confidence to know that he will be able to manage once he is at school and will help him take this responsibility seriously. Obviously, it will give you important peace of mind as well.
Preparing to head to college
There are some things that your student should do before heading off to college. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network has a resource page for college students and your student should become familiar with this organization’s suggestions. Some of what they recommend is common sense, but your student should not overlook the details. There are some important questions for your student to ask prior to arriving on campus.
- Ask whether the college has a policy regarding allergies and accommodations.
- Ask whether there is a designated person on campus who is in charge of food allergy information.
- Ask how to verify the ingredients of the foods served on campus.
- Ask about food preparation and cross contact in food preparation areas.
- If it seems helpful, ask for a tour of the kitchen and storage areas.
- Ask about an option of the student preparing her own meals rather than purchasing a meal plan.
- Ask whether there is housing available with food preparation facilities.
- Investigate whether there is any important health insurance information that your student should be aware of.
- Ask whether there are areas such as peanut free dining halls. (Stanford University has one!)
- Make sure your student has a medical emergency card or MedicAlert jewelry if necessary, and that she will carry or wear it.
Who should your student get to know on campus?
There are some people on or near every campus who may be especially helpful to your student as she works to manage her allergy needs. Here are ten suggestions. Who-to-know or individual titles will vary by campus.
- The dining services manager and individual food servers
- The Health Clinic personnel
- The Dean of Student Life
- The Director of Residence Life
- The Disabilities Officer
- Public Safety (For emergency protocols.)
- Local hospital and emergency transportation options
- An allergist in the area of the college (Perhaps a referral from your doctor.)
- Roommate (Be sure to share concerns/needs.)
- Local health food store or grocery (They may be able to place special food orders.)
What to do
How your student handles her allergies will be up to her. It is important that she feel in control and comfortable. She may choose to share her needs or to manage them quietly. Here are a final few things for your student to consider.
- Talk to your roommate — especially if there is any potential of a severe reaction. Let her know what to do if you need help.
- Be as open with others as you are comfortable doing. Others may start to check food ingredients for you. It helps when your friends understand.
- Find other students with similar needs or concerns. There is comfort, and power, in numbers.
- Consider avoiding the busiest times in the cafeteria. It may be easier to manage.
- Consider holding an informal informational or training session for others. They may be interested in learning more about allergies and food ingredients.
Colleges are becoming increasingly aware and sensitive to the special needs of students. If your student plans ahead, makes connections, and takes ownership of his allergy care, he should be able to be happy and healthy while away at college.