Sunday, 9 November 2014

Moving out with allergies and anaphylaxis

For the older young person one of the new challenges faced is moving out of the comforts of home life to live independently. There is obviously no set age for this and it can be a much more challenging experience for young people with health problems to the extent they are scared to move out.

I don't have much experience of living away from home as it's a pretty new experience for me. At 20 years old, in September of this year, I took the decision to move into student accommodation that my University supplies. This was not a decision I made lightly and a lot of me still wanted to stay at home where my mum was close to hand and there if I needed her. However, it's been a really big learning curve for me and something I am grateful to have experienced.

So here are some tips regarding moving away from home, whether that be to student accommodation or to a flat of you're own, hopefully this will provide some help and reassurance.

1. If living in student accommodation try and move into self-catering
A lot of Universities will supply both catering and self-catering accommodation. Catering normally consists of where you get your breakfast and dinner provided for you whereas Self-catering gives you a lot more independence towards what you cook. My University doesn't provide the choice but even if it were to I would have chosen self-catering so I were to be 100% certain that my food doesn't contain my allergens.

2. Let your flat mates know about your allergies
As I said in my post concerning dating with allergies this can be a very difficult thing to do. You don't want to feel different from those surrounding you but it's something that really needs to be done. Particularly if you suffer from an airborne allergy or a contact allergy. I'll give an example of something that has occurred whilst I've been living in student accommodation. I suffer from anaphylaxis to peanuts and my allergy is also a contact allergy. I had been out of the flat staying at home for a few days and one of my flat mates thought it would be okay to eat some peanut butter. She must have accidentally left some peanut butter on the worktop she had used and I must have touched it.  In turn I must have then have touched my face, mouth etc. Within two hours my body suffered an anaphylactic reaction to the peanut butter and I had to be taken to hospital. My flat mate felt extremely guilty and apologised to me about it. She did not realise that I could suffer a reaction even if I was not in the flat of at the time. It's very important your flat mates know the severity of your allergy and the major things to avoid. It is not to say they cannot eat the things you're allergic to however if they do to take some steps to ensure you will not come into contact with it. For example: wiping down worktops with something like dettol and disposing of the cloth used to wipe the surface, washing all cutlery used immediately after eating the product, storing the product away from anything you may come into contact with such as in their own cupboard etc. You could possibly write a list of your food allergies and stick it on a notice board in your kitchen so they can be reminded of things.

3. If possible ask for your own fridge
Universities have strict health and safety policies concerning extra furniture so you would most likely require permission for this before doing so. I got permission from my University to have my own small sized fridge in my bedroom in order to try limit any contact with other people's food that may cause an allergic reaction. This is definitely more important if you suffer from an allergy to something very common such as milk or peanuts or tree nuts as students tend to have these things stored in the fridge.

4. Telling your flat mates what to do in case of an emergency
Along with telling your flat mates about your allergies let them know what to do in case of an emergency. When I discussed things with my flat mates I let them know that I have my medication with me at all times and if I were to suffer an allergic reaction I would have to administer my epi-pen and an ambulance would have to be called. This not only allows them to understand the severity of what happens if I come into contact with something I'm allergic to but also helps them become aware of things and would most likely help them to remain calm in an emergency situation.

5. Let your University know about your allergies
When I was applying to accommodation there was a part of the application that asked you to put down any health issues that may affect you whilst staying in accommodation. This is a very vital thing to do  so they know the situation if you were to have to call an ambulance to your accommodation. Often Universities will have policies about calling ambulances. Due to the nature of student life the majority of ambulances called out to student accommodation are likely to be drink related. You need to let the University know that yours is genuinely a serious situation and you genuinely do need help.

6. Keep in contact with your parents/guardians
Parents and guardians will worry about their child when they move away from home, this will be a lot worse for them when their child suffers from a health condition such as a food allergy. It is a good idea to try talk to your parents/guardians at least once a day. Send them a text message, a facebook message or talk to them on the phone to reassure them that you're okay. This will really help keep them at ease that there are no problems as if they don't hear from you alarm bells may start ringing that something bad has happened.

7. Take an interest in learning to cook
Due to the issue of ready meals carrying the risk of containing allergens or having may contains I wouldn't advise using these. I would definitely advise trying to learn how to cook things. It doesn't have to be seriously complicated things, you can make really tasty pasta from scratch or by using a safe pasta sauce for you. You can make things really easily and quickly that taste really good and are safe for you to eat. It's a good idea to invest in a cook book, or if you don't want to do this then there are a lot of websites online that supply recipes that you can try.

8. Medical awareness jewellery 
I have found this to be a complete life-saver! I personally have a medic alert bracelet that says on it "Brittle asthma, anaphylaxis: nuts, penicillin, clarithromycin & others. Carries: adrenaline". I also keep the wallet card that came with my bracelet in my purse. It's proved really helpful when I've had to call for help. Due to the nature of anaphylaxis and it often causing difficulties with breathing it's useful to have an aid which can speak for you when you are not capable of speaking. If you don't want to invest in a medic alert bracelet or something similar you can get make your own message on a piece of paper writing down what you want it to say. Personally I would advise you to have on it:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Next of kin (who you want contacted in case of an emergency. It's often good to put down two people in case one is unavailable).
  • Allergies (you could even state what type of reaction they cause and place them into categories).
  • Medications
  • Medical conditions
You could also put things on it like Dr's name and address, any consultants you may be under etc.

9. Register with a nearby Doctor's surgery
Often people move hours away from their home to attend University/college or simply to move out. It is absolutely pointless of you living in one place and your GP being hundreds of miles away back home. Sometimes when allergies flare up you need an emergency prescription of some anti-histamines or steroid tablets and these can often be hard to come by if you don't have a local doctor's practice. It is also often vital to be registered with a local doctor to get any prescriptions you may need. It is essential to keep epi-pens which are in date as well as any other medication such as anti-histamines or inhalers.

10. Make sure your medication is in date
Further to my above suggestion this is essential. Making sure things like epi-pens are in date are a must. They normally expire within a year of getting them so it's absolute that you have a new prescription if/when this does happen. Make sure you have two epi-pens with you at all times. It's often a good idea to have two sets of epi-pens at your new living area. I personally have 2 in the hand bag I take with me out and 2 kept separately within my accommodation in a drawer. 

11. Have an emergency plan
Obviously no one wants to end up having an emergency but it's a very good idea to have a set plan in place in case this were to happen. Make sure you have someone you can call who is close at hand in case there were an emergency. This could be a flat mate, or if you're in student accommodation someone who lives close by. It is advisable to call your parent/guardian to let them know what's going on so they are aware. Be aware of your local emergency number (this is more for people who move to a different country). Have directions to your local hospital and know how to get back from the hospital as often people are discharged from the hospital 4-6 hours after their reaction if they are stable. Have a plan of how to get home if this were to happen for example: taxi, calling someone to take you back etc. If you were to go back yourself in a taxi it is often a good idea to call someone to come and meet you at the hospital to make sure nothing were to happen when going back. It's a good idea to have an emergency amount of money, enough for a taxi fare, so you will not be struggling to get home.

12. Don't share cooking utensils and cleaning products
Have your own stock of things like crockery, cutlery etc. Also have your own sponges, dish towels etc. A tip can be to have your own basin to wash your things in which you put in the sink. Rubber gloves can also be a good idea to clean things with as well as when you're doing things like taking the bins out or cleaning things like worktops and such.  

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