Allergies and U: Allergy Strategies for the College Bound

June 2022   Linda Armstrong  |  ✓  Medically reviewed by: Gary Falcetano, PA-C, AE-C; Fabio Iachetti, MD

A licensed Physician Assistant with more than 25 years of diverse experience in emergency and disaster medicine, primary care, and allergy and immunology, Gary Falcetano is the U.S. Clinical Affairs Manager for Allergy in ImmunoDiagnostics at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Fabio Iachetti is a licensed physician with more than 15 years of diverse experience in several disease areas such as allergy, CV, pain, GI, rheumatology, urology, and diabetology. He is a Senior Medical Manager for Allergy in ImmunoDiagnostics Global Medical Affairs at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

If you’re heading off to college, the world truly is your oyster—or oyster cracker if you have a mollusk allergy. But if you suffer from allergies, leaving home can also leave you feeling slightly uncertain about your newfound freedom.

How are you going to manage your allergies? Who can you turn to in emergencies? And what kind of allergy-related gear should you pack along with your favorite jammies?

Here’s some graduate-level advice to help you score a PhD in allergy preparedness. 

Remember allergy essentials for college.

Along with sweatpants and deodorant, you’ll want to pack everything you need to manage your allergies while away from home. Here are some handy items to consider:

  • Facial tissues
  • Allergen-friendly cleaning supplies
  • Masks and gloves (You may need these for allergy-related cleaning and for potential COVID-related protocols.)
  • Chef cards for those with food allergies (Food Allergy Research and Education [FARE] offers a document, which you can print out and hand to food-prep personnel, that communicates your allergies and asks for specific accommodations.)
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as an epinephrine injector or inhaler
  • Health-insurance and/or prescription cards

Consider functional allergy-related supplies.

You’ll likely need a few additional functional items—beyond a mini fridge and pong table—to combat allergies in your dorm or apartment. Consider adding these utilitarian items to your allergy arsenal.

  • Vacuum cleaner. Dorm and apartment flooring is a total crapshoot. It might be concrete. It might be laminate. It could be carpet. Or it could be a combination concrete-laminate-carpet situation. At any rate, you might want to bring a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to reduce dust and other allergens.1
  • Portable air cleaner or AC filters. If your dorm room has an AC unit with temperature control that you can change, you’ve hit the jackpot. Note whether it has filters that you—or maintenance personnel—can replace regularly, and either secure extra filters or inquire about the process for doing so with maintenance. Also consider adding a portable air cleaner (aka air purifier or air sanitizer) to improve indoor air quality.2
  • Allergen-proof bedding. If you’re sensitized to dust mites, you may want to take a few extra steps with your bedding to reduce symptoms, such as encasing mattresses, box springs, and pillows in special allergen-proof fabric covers or airtight, zippered plastic covers.3

Tell your roomies and friends about your allergies.

Allergies might feel like an awkward first-convo topic (one of many, TBH), but you’ll need to have the conversation with your roommate(s) and close friends sooner rather than later, particularly if you’re dealing with food allergies in college.

Also check with student health services to see if your school offers special accommodations to help with these conversations. If you’re in student housing, there should be a resident assistant assigned to your dorm or apartment that can help as well.

It’s important to get all your roomies and close contacts on your team to help you avoid and/or reduce your triggers. (And who knows, maybe they’ll have allergies, too. #BondingExperience.)

(And as a side note, if you’re not certain exactly what you’re allergic to, now may be the perfect time to find out. Consider a bit of precollege prep work and learn about blood testing for allergies, which can aid in diagnosis.)

When you eventually broach the topic of allergies, discuss specific ways your friends and roomies can help you. You might suggest these strategies for your dwelling.

  • Throw dirty outdoor clothes in a designated bin. If the weather is nice, there’s a good chance you might be spending a lot of time outdoors. But if you’re out on a day when pollen counts are high, consider employing a designated bin by the door with a sealed lid for dirty clothes. That way, when you come in from outside, you’ll have a safe space to store pollen-carrying shoes, clothes, and hats before laundry day.
  • Establish a safe-snack stash. If you have a severe food allergy, communicate your triggers to your pals. Explain to anyone in your dwelling and those who might visit your place that you have a severe food allergy and that you need to stay away from certain foods. Then create an easily accessible stash of all your favorite allergy-safe treats—cookies, gluten-free ramen, soda, etc.—that everyone can enjoy.

Scope out the dining halls and vending machines.

If you have a food allergy, be extra diligent about making plans for how and where you will eat on campus. You can call the college or university’s dining halls or make some inquiries with older students. Orientation and campus visits also are safe spaces to ask questions. Plus, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) offers a helpful tool for students to search colleges and universities for their food-allergy and celiac-disease accommodations.

Know where to go in case of an emergency.

For those with allergies, a list of the closest medical facilities is just as important as knowing how many times you can hit snooze before you’ll be late for your 8 a.m. PoliSci lecture. Add medical-facility contact info to your phone and print out a list to post in your room and keep in your wallet or purse for the rare occasions you don’t have your phone. That way, if you have an allergic reaction that needs medical attention, you’ll know where to go and who to call.

This is also something you can work on with your healthcare provider for your unique allergy needs. For example, FARE offers a template for Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan that includes symptoms to watch for, steps to take, and emergency contact information.

While living with allergies during college might require a bit more thought and preparation, it need not spoil the experience. Just pack your essentials, consider your new environment, and think through potential pitfalls and emergency situations. When it comes to your college experience, an ounce of college-bound preparedness is worth more than a parent-funded debit card.

Tools for Understanding Allergies


Track allergy symptoms and prepare for a visit with a healthcare provider.

Learn about specific allergens, including common symptoms, management, and relief. 

Are you a healthcare provider? Get comprehensive information on hundreds of whole allergens and allergen components.

  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology [Internet]. Arlington Heights, IL: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; 2021. Available from: Accessed Nov 2021.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency [Internet]. Washington, DA; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 2021. Available from: Accessed Nov 2021.
  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology [Internet]. Arlington Heights, IL: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; 2021. Available from: Accessed Nov 2021.