Student life with an allergy

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

At the University of Birmingham, you’ll find plenty of support to make living with your allergies less stressful. This brief outline will help you know what to expect, along with some tips on how to make settling into student life feel more manageable.

Happy students chatting in the communal area of their accommodation

Letting people know

This might well be one of your biggest worries. Arriving in a new place can feel intimidating, and telling your new friends 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.

A group of students sitting in the social room chatting and reading

Telling your flatmates

The University will help you to let your new flatmates know.

During Welcome Week, you’ll create a Flat Agreement together, led by our 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 flatmates, and the practicalities of what this might mean for them and you.

Your flat will have a poster in the kitchen with some keys facts and advice about allergies. It’s a simple way to make people aware, including visitors, and you may find it helps you to start the conversation with your flatmates.

Telling others

When you apply for accommodation, you’ll have the opportunity to tell the University about your allergy. If you have additional requirements – like a fridge in your room for medication, or hard flooring due to a dust mite allergy – you can request this during your 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 place to prepare, eat and store your food.

Here are a few practical recommendations, drawn from real student experiences:

  • 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 own food and cooking utensils separate, labelled; for example, you might choose to have a separate toaster, clearly labelled, to avoid cross-contamination

You might feel self-conscious at first, but it will help to remind your flatmates about the seriousness of your allergy as well as keeping you safe from an allergic reaction.

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 make sure you can enjoy eating out on campus.

A guy picking some food from a buffet

If you’re a new student, we really recommend coming in to see the Catering team at Infusion at the Vale Village when you arrive. We’ll arrange for you to meet with a chef who’ll listen, 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 this information, but you can ask a member of staff for allergen information.

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 that you take good care of your needs while you’re living independently.

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


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.

It’s essential that you keep your medication up to date. Many manufacturers have an expiry alert service, which will send you a text when your medication needs to be renewed.

Store your medication correctly. Remember that auto-injectors should be kept away from light, below 25°C, and never stored in the fridge.

Things to bear in mind

Student life might mean finding yourself in new situations, or trying new behaviours. To make sure you can 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 getting help.

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 doctor, and are aware of the services available from Student Support, your accommodation and the Guild.

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 genuinely committed to giving you a positive student experience. We work closely with current students, and take on board their feedback to keep improving how we provide support.

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

Find more Health and Wellbeing advice, including useful email addresses and contact numbers

Some of the advice in this guide comes from the Anaphylaxis Campaign, the UK’s charity to support people at risk from severe allergies.

Read more from the Anaphylaxis Campaign