student life

Managing the risks of allergens on campus

hay fever
Written by C Wolsey

Young people aged between 16 and 24 have been identified by the Anaphylaxis Campaign as being at risk over their management of allergies. This age group includes students heading to university, where they will be wholly responsible for their own wellbeing, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Managing allergies while away from home can be challenging, but, while it may be impossible to remove all risk from campus, there are steps that universities can take to help protect students. These include implementing regulations on food provided in campus canteens, and keeping buildings free of damp and mould to minimise exposure to airborne allergens.

Reducing The Risk Of Severe Food Allergies

It is estimated that around 8% of teenagers have a food allergy that can cause a range of reactions from rashes and sneezing to life-threatening swelling of the throat and shortness of breath. Teenagers and young adults at university may be more susceptible to fatal reactions, as they tend to take more risks with their health. However, a major factor in their vulnerability is eating meals that have been prepared by other people, whether in shared student accommodation or in the college canteen. With the introduction of Natasha’s Law later this year, all pre-packaged food on sale will have to clearly carry a full list of ingredients and comprehensive labelling of any major allergens. By strictly complying with this new legislation, universities can help to keep vulnerable students safe. 

Avoiding Exposure To Mould Spores

According to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, around a quarter of people with allergies are allergic to mould. In student accommodation, mould can be detrimental to health, causing reactions such as itchy eyes, sore throats and headaches. An allergy to mould can also trigger asthma attacks and lead to restricted breathing. Mould requires water to grow so students can take steps to limit condensation in their rooms by opening windows and not drying clothes indoors. However, it should be the university’s responsibility to keep buildings well-maintained and ventilated in order to control moisture and stop mould from forming.

Minimising The Impact Of Hay Fever

While it is impossible to prevent students from being exposed to natural airborne allergens such as pollen, universities could do more to accommodate students who have severe hay fever, especially during exam season. A survey commissioned by the Education for Health charity found that students with symptoms of hay fever are 40% more likely to drop a grade by the time they sit their final exams in the summer. The idea of moving exams has been suggested in the past, but this looks unlikely to happen. Instead, universities can encourage students to start hay fever treatments around 3 months before the pollen season begins, as this can help them to build up immunity to allergens, resulting in a less severe reaction once pollen counts are high. 

As students with allergies move away from home, they become responsible for managing their own sensitivities, often for the first time. To support these vulnerable students, universities can take steps to minimise their exposure to hazardous and potentially life-threatening allergens.