Student life with an allergy

Coming to university might be the first time you’re independently responsible for your allergies. So, it’s understandable if you feel anxious, or have lots of questions.

Thankfully, at the University of Birmingham, you’ll find plenty of support to make living with allergies more manageable stressful. This brief outline will help you know what to expect, along with some tips to help you settle into student life.

Happy students chatting in the communal area of their accommodation

Letting people know

This might well be one of your biggest worries. While you’re settling into a new place and meeting lots of new people, telling people that you have a serious allergy (and that you might need their help to administer medication, or call an ambulance) may be the last thing you want to do. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you every step of the way.


Telling your flatmates

During Welcome Week, you’ll get together with your flatmates to create a flat agreement with the support of your Student Mentors. This gives everyone the opportunity to talk openly and reach joint decisions on how you’d like to live together in the upcoming year.

You may not want to disclose your allergy but, if you do, this might be a good place to discuss it. Our Student Mentors can help you talk about your allergy with your flatmates, and the practicalities of what this might mean for them and you.

Telling others

When you book your room, you’ll have the chance to tell us about your allergy. If you have any additional requirements – like a mini fridge in your room for medication – you can request this in your accommodation application.  during your accommodation application.

You’ll also be given some advice about how to share information about your allergy with your flatmates and friends – from suggested facts to share to what to write in a note or text.

It’s a good idea to let key staff members know if your allergies might affect your studies, such as your personal tutor.

Using a shared kitchen

If you have food allergies, you may be worried about sharing a dining and food preparation and storage space. Here are a couple recommendations from students just like you:

  • Use your own washing-up sponge and tea towel: you can either label it and keep it in your personal kitchen space/cupboard, or keep it in your room
  • Wipe down surfaces before preparing food
  • If your allergy is severe, keep your food and cooking utensils (e.g., toaster) separate and labelled to avoid cross contamination.

While you may feel self-conscious at first, these are great ways to remind your flatmates of your allergy, while keeping you safe. If you have any concerns or are finding it difficult to communicate your needs to others, please get in touch with your Customer Service Manager, Site Manager, or a Student Mentor, who will be more than happy to help. 

Smiling students making a sandwich in the kitchen

Sharing a space and learning how to make that work is an important part of the student experience. If you find you need help communicating you needs, talk to your Customer Service Manager or Site Manager, or a Student Mentor. They’ll help you find effective ways to approach any problems and find a solution.

Eating out

On campus

The University will always work with you to ensure you can enjoy eating out on campus.

A guy picking some food from a buffet

If you're a new student, we recommend visiting the Food Fellows team at Vale Infusion or in University Centre, just upstairs from the Student Living office. When you arrive ask for Shaun Craig, Associate Director of Culinary Development and Operations. See the Campus Map for directions.

They’ll arrange for you to meet with a chef who’ll listen to you and help you feel confident about your choices at restaurants and cafes all over campus. If you like, they can even teach you how to cook a few of your favourite dishes!

When you’re out and about on campus, you’ll find lots of ready-made, pre-packaged options like snacks and sandwiches with clear labelling. Our freshly made hot and cold options don’t display allergen information, so please ask a member of staff before you order.

If you’d like to arrange a meeting to discuss your needs, or to give feedback, contact


In the city

Birmingham is well known for its food culture. Selly Oak, a popular student area close to campus, is also packed with places to eat.

You might already feel confident about what you need to do when you dine out. If not, here are a few pointers:

  • Check the restaurant’s menu in advance, if you can
  • Ask to see allergen information if it’s not on the menu
  • Tell your server you have an allergy, and ask them to make a note on the order that is sent to the kitchen
  • Make sure the people with you know about your allergy
  • Don’t assume a meal will be ok without checking

Some styles of cooking or cuisines may make cross-contamination or the presence of your allergen more likely. If your friends have chosen a restaurant which can’t promise to offer a safe option for you, don’t be afraid to explain and suggest an alternative.

Your responsibilities

It’s important to take good care of your needs while you’re living independently. 

Girl lying on her bed, listening to music through her headphones


It’s important to take good care of your needs while you’re living independently.

If you need medication such as an auto-injector (EpiPen), always carry it with you. If you find it hard to remember, set a reminder on your phone. 

Make sure you keep your medication up to date – many manufacturers have an expiry alert service, which will text you when your medication needs to be reviewed – and don’t forget to store your medication correctly, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.  


Things to bear in mind

Student life might mean finding yourself in new situations and behaving differently to how you would at home. To make sure you safely enjoy your time here, it’s a good idea to be aware of how these might impact on your allergies.

Two girls chatting in the kitchen while drinking hot drinks

Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol can increase the severity of an allergic reaction. Be aware that you may have a worse reaction if you’ve been drinking.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin can also have the same effect.

If you’re using alcohol or recreational drugs, you may not recognise the early signs of a reaction as quickly as usual, which can delay you getting the help you need.   

Kissing and sexual contact

Allergens stay in the mouth’s saliva for several hours – up to 24 hours, even after brushing your teeth. If you or your partner has a severe food allergy, it’s a good idea to check what you’ve eaten for allergens.

Illness and stress

If you’re ill or recovering from a recent illness, your allergic reactions may be more severe than usual. Stress and lack of sleep will also make you more vulnerable to a severe reaction. So, if you’re worrying about a deadline or preparing for exams, be mindful about how you’re feeling.

Make sure you’re registered with a local GP – the UMP (University Medical Practice) is the nearest surgery to campus – and don’t forget that the University’s many support services are here to help you, including the Guild and your accommodation team.   


Communal spaces

Study spaces, library desks, coffee shops and communal social areas may have surface allergens left by other people. You might like to carry a pack of wipes with you to make sure you can clean an area before you use it.

Other sources of help

The University is committed to giving you the best student experience possible. That’s why we work closely with current students to constantly improve our offers and ensure the support we provide best helps every student get the most from uni life.   

If you need some help or advice to manage your housing situation, any shared living issues, or anything else which is affecting your wellbeing, there’s a range of support available

You can also make the most of one-to-one peer support from the Student Mentors while you’re living in university accommodation too. You can go to see them in person by visiting their office at the Vale (next to the Duck & Scholar), which is open Monday to Friday (4pm – 8pm) during term time, call them on 0121 415 8568, or drop them an email at

Some of the advice in this guide comes from the Anaphylaxis Campaign, the UK’s charity to support people at risk from severe allergies. You can find more advice and support on their website.