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Health & Exercise Forum

Health Tips for College Students: Part I of III

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Aug 17, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyA few weeks ago, my son John and I attended parent/student orientation for incoming freshman at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. The presentations were informative and interesting. One lecture in particular, presented by the director of campus health services, caught my interest. I immediately began to research this topic further for those readers preparing to send a child off to college this fall.

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 Symptoms: coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, mild fevers

Flu Symptoms: 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 fatigue.

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 hygiene

Bruises, Sprains and Strains

These are very common in healthy, active college students and are rarely serious.

Symptoms: 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.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body. Keep moving, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly.

SOURCES: American Academy of Pediatrics

NEXT MONDAY – Read "Health Tips for College Students – Part II