Living with anaphylaxis: Life with an Epi-pen

Many university students have allergies; some of them are anaphylactic to certain foods, medications, insect stings or even exercise. For students living with anaphylaxis, life with roommates or living away from home may pose challenges, or at the very least, some uncertainty.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening type of allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction.

Kyle Dine, the Program Coordinator for Anaphylaxis Canada, a non-profit organization that provides information, support and resources for people with anaphylaxis, advises students to speak up for themselves if they do have serious allergies.

“Allergies are very common these days,” Dine said. He encourages students with anaphylaxis to, “Keep on advocating for your self. Speak up.”

Dine is anaphylactic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish and mustard.

Once a university student himself, Dine recommends that should students communicate with their friends, significant others and roommates about their allergies.

Sean Breen, 21, is a member of Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel and has been an active volunteer with the organization since 1997.

Diagnosed as being anaphylactic to peanuts when he was 18 months old, he is a strong advocate for raising awareness about anaphylaxis, and says that the most important piece of advice for university students with allergies is, “Be careful, always know your surroundings and always carry your auto-injector.”

Dine agrees and cautions that auto injectors expire on a yearly basis. Students with anaphylaxis need to know when theirs expires (consider marking it on a calendar) and get a new one as soon as possible because you “don’t want to rely on expired life saving medication.”

Dine suggests that friends, significant others and roommates of students with anaphylaxis need to take their allergies seriously and be mindful of them.
Breen agrees.

“[Friends and roommates] can help by understanding your allergy and helping you read labels. In my case, my girlfriend would ask about the food; sometimes when we’d eat out, she enjoyed trying to think of a question that I had not yet asked.”

As for a specific approach to allergies, Dine says that it depends on the individual student and what they feel comfortable with. He acknowledges that university students will be living in close quarters with one another whether it is in residence or a house together.

Students with anaphylaxis will have different approaches to keeping their allergies under control; guidelines and rules with roommates can help to achieve this.

Dine said that some students will be fine with their roommates and floor mates consuming their trigger food as long as they have their own, separate utensils and dishes; other students may allow their roommates to eat their trigger food when they are not around and have it stored in a labeled cupboard in a secure jar while many students may not feel comfortable have their trigger food around at all.

As well as roommates, Dine encourages students to speak to the university’s food services and the local restaurants that they visit – see if they can cater to your diet. Dine says that there are usually special options available.

Dine is pleased that today there is more anaphylaxis and allergy awareness than ever.

“People are talking about it [allergies] more… hopefully we can continue making allergies a priority,” Dine said.

Breen, meanwhile, is helping to raise online awareness about anaphylaxis He recently starred in a video filmed by Anaphylxis Canada that is available on Youtube about a family get together where his trigger food was present.

Breen says, “there can always be more awareness about allergies. Creating better awareness programs in schools would be a huge step towards helping to get awareness out.”
It is estimated that approximately 1-2 percent of Canadians live with the risk of an anaphylactic reaction and more than 50 percent of Canadians know someone with a life-threatening allergy, according to Anaphylaxis Canada.

For more information about anaphylaxis, a great source is: or (which is more geared towards young adults).

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