Tips to Stay Healthy This Semester

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Getting back into the groove of school can be challenging after winter break. You just spent a few weeks kicking back, enjoying the holidays, hanging out with friends without a care in the world. You’ve conquered finals! Nothing to worry about until new classes start! You earned a bit of relaxation.

Except now that break is over, you’re back in the real world: back to hectic schedules, walking across campus, and constantly braving the cold. The average undergrad student spends about 3 hours getting ready and walking to and from class. There’s hardly any time to focus on school work, let alone think about staying healthy — and I’m not talking about hitting the rec center.

We all get sick this time of year, but there’s a reason that college campuses get hit particularly hard. Freshmen, in particular, are vulnerable. It wouldn’t have been that bad to get sick over break — but now, just when you’re starting to get back into the swing of things? A bad cold can make it difficult to study, and bad flu can set you back a few weeks. How can you stay healthy this semester?

What Everyone Knows But Doesn’t Do

Stop it before it even starts … Diseases spread more during winter months because everyone holes up indoors. That means that all those communal surfaces have more germs than you’d think. The average desk has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. In order to prevent getting sick, follow some common sense advice!

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, regularly. If you live somewhere with cold, dry air, make sure to moisturize afterward.
  • Carry hand sanitizer for sticky situations. Many schools will give small containers out for free, so be on the lookout at career fairs and the like!
  • Don’t share straws, silverware, or pencils that have clearly been chewed on.
  • Don’t touch your mouth or face after spending time in class, the library, or any high-traffic area.
  • Get a flu shot. Most colleges offer these for free! Since this year’s flu season is going to be particularly bad, make sure you get yours.

Yeah, you might know all this already. This is just a friendly reminder to actually follow the advice this year.

Advanced Advice

Alright, those are the basics, but what else can you do to prevent from getting sick? Well, there are a couple of habits that make college students particularly vulnerable.

Are you getting enough sleep? And, no, in class doesn’t count. You probably need around 8 hours a night. That might sound like a dream, but without proper sleep your immune system is vulnerable. If you just can’t make it to 8 hours during the night, though, don’t be ashamed to take a nap. Better you lose a few hours of studying than a few days of class.

Naps can also lower your stress level, which is hugely helpful towards maintaining a healthy immune system. Make sure you are taking time to relax. Too many college students are too busy multitasking and resume-building that they work themselves to bed.

Be aware of your surroundings. This is one of the hardest things to monitor but by far the most helpful. Many college dorms are cramped spaces filled with as many people as possible. This is the perfect environment for bacteria and viruses to spread. If your roommate says they are not feeling well, stock up on antibacterial wipes and vitamin C!

Know When to Get Help

Too many college kids are so worried about saving money that they spread disease and get worse when they should’ve gone to the doctor. Your college probably has a clinic on campus, and they will work with you to cut down on the cost! There’s no reason you should continue to languish in misery when there are medications and treatments to help you get back on your feet.

If you’ve been sick for more than a couple days, consider that you might have something more serious. That sore throat might be strep — the differences between the flu and pneumonia aren’t as obvious as you’d think — and having a fever for multiple days is a definitely a cause for concern. If you’re worried that this could be something more, go to the doctor and encourage friends to do the same.

Staying healthy in college is more challenging than most people think. Between classes, work, and juggling a social life, you’re stressed enough as it is. This is just one more thing to think about. However, if you’re health lags behind, you can’t really juggle anything else. Staying in tip-top shape needs to be a priority this winter. So bundle up and use your head!

4 Common College Illnesses and How to Treat Them

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‘Tis the season… to feel the sniffles. The cold weather added to the stress of finals and being stuck indoors all day is a recipe for a health disaster. This is especially true for college students who live in cramped and crowded dorm rooms where germs travel quickly from resident to resident. Luckily, many common ailments can be treated quickly. Here’s what you need to know.

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1.   Flu

Did you get your flu shot this year? If not, head to your campus’ health office and get yours today. It is most likely free or low-cost.

However, if you miss the flu shot and catch the illness, don’t fret. You can get through this. The first thing you need to do is to check in with your campus nurse. You may have a chance to take an antiviral if you go early. If you are unable to be seen, the next step is to hydrate. Send your roommate out to get your sports drinks, broth soup, and fresh water. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a fever reducer or cough syrup as well, if need be. Besides that, take time to rest up, sleep often, and stick to your own room until your illness has completely passed.

2.   Cold/Upper Respiratory Infections

The common cold sounds harmless, but it can really interrupt your busy schedule. Headache, stuffy nose, cough — who needs it? Luckily, colds are relatively harmless and go away pretty quickly, but there are no medicines that can truly make it disappear completely.

Instead, try to reduce your symptoms by steaming up the bathroom with a hot shower or using a humidifier in your dorm room. You can even buy nose drops or a neti pot if your worst symptoms are that annoying, stuffed up feeling.

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3.   Strep Throat

That itchy, tired, sore throat may be a bacterial infection known as streptococcal pharyngitis or more commonly, strep throat. If you’re having trouble swallowing or have a fever and swollen glands, chances may be that you caught it. See a doctor if your fever gets above 103 degrees or if your symptoms worsen where you have trouble breathing or your lymph nodes become tender or swollen.

In the meantime, you can treat this with over-the-counter pain and fever medications. You can help your throat along by gargling a mix of salt and warm water. But because strep throat is a bacterial infection, you should seek a doctor and get a prescription for an antibiotic that will help you feel better in 24 hours.

4.   Food Poisoning

Your stomach is turning in knots, you can’t keep anything down, and you’re seriously regretting those smelly tacos from the cafeteria: you probably have a case of food poisoning. Food poisoning occurs when you accidentally consume food that hasn’t been properly prepared or has been contaminated. It’s unfortunately common in colleges where cafeterias produce mass amounts of food for students or in dorm rooms where students are using things like microwaves or unwashed utensils to cook for themselves.

It’s hard to know if you actually have food poisoning because you can see signs of it within hours or up to weeks! But most likely, you will have a fever, upset stomach, and abdominal cramps. Like the flu, it is important to stay hydrated and to watch your symptoms. Don’t wait too long to be seen. If you have been sick for over 48 hours, it’s time to go in.