Health Tips for College Students
PART 1 of 3
Labor Day has passed and suddenly it is the middle of September. Students have returned to school and many college freshmen are still adjusting to their new environment away from home. Over the past month I have received several requests for a copy of my three part series of columns on health tips for college students. In view of this, I thought other parents preparing to send a child off to college this fall might also find this information valuable.
To fully appreciate the importance of this topic, one must keep in mind that living in a large community and sharing close quarters is the first ingredient in the development and spread of disease. College life can be very unhealthy for many reasons. Lack of sleep, poor eating habits and stress add spice to the recipe for disease. Lastly, poor hygiene added to the equation, will really get the Petri dish cooking up some nasty germs.
Common Health Problems for College Students (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Colds and Flu These are caused by viruses. While both are similar, flu symptoms are typically more severe.
- Cold: coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, mild fevers
- Flu: high fever (above 102 degrees), body aches, dry cough, upset stomach or vomiting
- Treatment: rest, plenty of fluids, and treat symptoms. Consult your physician or college health services for the best medicines to control your symptoms. Caution should be used when taking excessive flu meds containing aspirin because an increase in complications (Reye Syndrome) are associated with the flu in college students.
- Prevention: While it is not possible to prevent getting a cold or flu, you can take precautions, such as washing your hands and getting a flu shot
- Strep Throat, Sinus Infections, Ear Infections- caused by bacteria
- Symptoms: very sore throat, pain in the ears or sinuses, persistent fever
- Treatment: These symptoms require a visit to the college health services department. You may need to take antibiotics. If so, take as directed and take all of them or you may have a relapse.
- Prevention: Avoid close contact with infected people – no kissing, sharing drinks or eating utensils. Wash your hands, get plenty of rest
- Meningococcal Disease- Meningitis is a common form of this disease that can infect the brain, spinal cord and/or blood
- Symptoms: high fever, stiff neck, severe headache, a flat, pink or purple rash, nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light
- Treatment: Immediate medical treatment is required. This disease is serious. It can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage.
- Prevention: It is strongly recommended that all teens, especially incoming freshman college students, receive a vaccine to prevent the infection of most, but not all, strains of bacteria that cause this disease
- Mononucleosis (Mono): Mono is caused by a virus and is also known as the “kissing disease.” It is very common among college students.
- Symptoms: fever, sore throat, headache, swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck, extreme fatique.
- Treatment: If a sore throat or flu symptoms do not resolve in 7- 10 days, see your doctor for a blood test called the “monospot.” While there is no specific treatment, plenty of rest and a healthy diet are essential. Medication to control symptoms can also be used.
- Prevention: Plenty of rest, healthy diet, good hygien
- Bruises, Sprains and Strains: These are very common in healthy, active college students and are rarely serious.
- Bruises: a bump or bruise can cause the skin to turn purple, brown or red in color.
- Strains: are injuries to muscles or tendons from overuse or sudden overstretching.
- Sprains: are injuries to the ligaments which connect the bones. It can be caused by a twist or fall or awkward sudden movement.
- Treatment: RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
- Rest – the first 24-48 hours
- Ice – use ice or cold gel packs on the injury for 20-30 minutes several times per day
- Compression – to the area with an elastic bandage
- Elevation – elevate the injury on pillows, etc to limit swelling.
- If the pain or swelling is not improved in 1-2 days, or if you cannot bear weight on the extremity, visit the college health services dept.
- Prevention: While it is important to be physically active, one must do so intelligently:
- Use Proper Equipment – eye protection, helmets, mouth guard, etc
- Warm up/Cool Down – take time to warm up, stretch and cool down
- Take Breaks – ease into activity and rest when necessary.
SOURCES: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body. Keep moving, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly.
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune. Next Week: “Health Tips for College Students – Part 2”
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.