Hi, my name is Caitlin, and I’m a 20-year-old trainee teacher with severe allergies. When I was a baby, I developed my first allergy to peas and later developed my lentil, sesame and nut allergies when I was 16/17. This was a bit of a whirlwind moment, and for a long time, I felt incredibly alone in it all, so I made an allergy account on Instagram called “The Allergy Life”. This has been the silver lining to it all; meeting so many amazing people with the same battles and the same worries and who just get it, making life as a student with food allergies not as bad as it could be.
I will always say, having an allergy will show considerate friends a lot quicker, and I have been lucky enough to find some of these people. I am currently within my second year of uni and living in shared accommodation with a communal kitchen!!! Something I never thought I could do after living alone in my first year because of my severe allergies and the risk that halls posed to me. Amongst the pandemic and the development of airborne allergies, I felt like uni would not be a place that I would ever be safe in. I felt the ‘uni experience’ of living with friends would never be something I would experience. But have been fortunate to find considerate friends who are willing to not only be alert of my allergens but be on an elimination diet when with me to prevent airborne and contact reactions. Our flat is now an ‘allergy-free zone’ with no products containing my allergies being brought into the flat, including any may contains. Of course, like many people with allergies, I have had negative comments from peers within my course and even lecturers. Still, I have found those who are willing almost to be ‘allergy allies’ for us all and support me through these times. My friends, Anna and Isobel, are always checking ingredients whenever we are out. The most touching thing is they both always say that “we can go wherever you feel most comfortable” and instead of it being a sweeping statement, I know they mean it.
When everyone thinks of uni, they think of drinking and partying culture – but how do you become part of a culture that exposes you to so much allergy risk? When every social involves food or drink?
Going out for food and drinks is a massive part of ‘uni life’ and is admittedly something I put off for a long time as finding a genuine allergy-safe restaurant can be a nightmare. Now my confidence has grown; I have gone out for meals more often and found sticking to chains is the best way to go. They most likely will have an allergen matrix that you can view before you arrive. This is useful as although many places will state they are ‘nut free’, their allergy menu, with the breakdown of dishes, will often state a ‘may contain’. For me, with severe allergies, a may contain is not worth this risk, and I also believe it raises questions as to whether restaurants can say they are nut-free if there is a potential allergy threat present? Having all this information before your arrival can help with allergy anxiety. My go-to place is The Botanist; I find the staff are always super friendly and helpful; there are several things on the menu I can have, or they will easily adapt dishes to be safe. This consideration will always help settle those natural nerves we all have. However, I now repeatedly visit the same restaurants, so hopefully, using Allergy Companions will provide new allergy-safe places. There are also two other chains I have visited recently , the Lounges and Cosy Club – however, I feel that there are too few options available for me to have. This is a shame, as I feel they really care about people with allergies. The Allergy Companions will allow me to branch out more and develop my confidence to try new places! The beauty of this community is its support network; discovering people to talk through the wins and the battles can be so beneficial.
I may not have the ‘uni life’ I imagined, or you see in the movies; it consists of constant vigilance and being your own advocate for your health. However, I have found lifelong friends who are making this journey easier.