Whether it’s your first year on campus or your last, the college lifestyle combined with communal living can sometimes be a petri dish of illness. From lack of sleep or a case of the flu working its way through your residence hall, there are several common illnesses students should be aware of and many campus resources to help you stay healthy!
It’s often referred to as “the kissing disease,” which doesn’t sound so bad, but mono is not something to be taken lightly. It’s most commonly transmitted through saliva, which is where it gets its nickname. Kissing and sharing drinks or food can spread this illness, and they’re not uncommon events on college campuses. In fact, according to research from ACHA, 1.8% of college students reported being diagnosed or treated by a professional for mononucleosis in the last 12 months.
Without treatment, mono can lead to more serious complications, so if you have reasonable suspicion, see a doctor right away. Visit the campus health center or your primary care doctor and have them take a mono test, and make sure you get plenty of rest!
While they have some symptoms in common, the flu is much worse than the common cold. Making you feverish and weak, influenza is bound to make you miss at least a couple days of class. Bed rest and staying hydrated can help you recover, but sometimes antiviral medication is required, so be sure to visit your campus health center if you get a fever.
As many of us well know, there is no cure for the common cold. For college students, living in shared spaces like the residence halls can increase your likelihood of coming down with the common cold, as well as some of the hallmarks of the college lifestyle, like poor sleep, poor nutrition, and stress. Rest and plenty of fluids (and tissues!) should help lessen your symptoms, but if they worsen, have a friend help you to the campus health center.
With so many tests, papers, classes, activities, and distractions on college campuses, getting enough sleep can be a challenge. On average, most college students get 6 – 6.9 hours of sleep a night, less than the recommended 8 hours. Sleep deprivation can have consequences for your health as well as your studies. Sleep deprivation affects short term memory and can lead to a lowered immune system, higher stress levels, weight gain, and more. If you are having trouble sleeping or wake up multiple times a night for several weeks, or you find yourself falling asleep at inappropriate times despite getting a full night’s rest, visit the campus health center or your primary care physician to see if you may have a sleep disorder.
1 in 4 college students have an STD, according to Stanford University’s Sexual Health Peer Resource Center. The alcohol and party culture on some campuses doesn’t help – 20.4% of college students report having unprotected sex in the last 12 months when drinking alcohol, according to ACHA. Sexually transmitted diseases are common among young people, but they can be prevented or treated by using adequate protection and regular testing. Some STDs display no symptoms, and sexually active students should be sure to get tested regularly even if there are no signs of infection. Ask if your campus health center performs the tests or look for a clinic nearby campus.
Many students are vaccinated against meningitis, and that’s for good reason – it is a serious condition that can cause brain damage and death. College students are an increased risk of getting it because it is more easily spread in close quarters, like residence halls. Meningitis initially behaves like the flu, but then more serious symptoms develop, such as confusion, vomiting, exhaustion and rash. If not treated right away, the disease can leave permanent damage, so it’s important to identify the signs quickly and early. If you suspect meningitis, call your doctor or the campus health center right away – early treatment is incredibly important.
14.3% of college students surveyed report having been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety within the last 12 months. Anxiety is a growing problem on college campuses as more and more students experience anxiety while in school. At one end of the spectrum, it could just a nuisance that you can manage by taking time to relax and getting adequate rest and nutrition. At it’s worst, anxiety can be paralyzing and make it difficult to complete the semester. Your school likely has many options available to you to seek help – whether it’s taking with your RA about your options or making an appointment with a therapist at school.
22% of students surveyed reported having 7 or more drinks the last time they “partied” or “socialized.” That’s a lot of drinks in one sitting, but not so uncommon at a crazy college party. Although parties are fun, in addition to impaired judgement, binge drinking can have serious physical consequences, including death. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include vomiting, slow breathing or irregular breathing, and passing out and can’t be awakened, as well as blue-tinged or pale skin, seizures, or confusion. If someone you are with begins exhibiting these symptoms or you suspect they may have alcohol poisoning, call 911 – someone who cannot be awakened is at risk of dying. If you are underage, no amount of trouble you could get in is worth your friend’s life.
On a college campus, where shared spaces are commonplace and hygiene takes a backseat to exam prep, bacteria is bound to get spread around. Pinkeye (also known as conjunctivitis) is not uncommon on college campuses. Pinkeye can be caused by viruses or allergies, but also by bacteria. It’s important to always avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, and wash your hands often. Be especially careful if you wear contacts; make sure you always wash your hands before putting in or taking out your lenses.
“You are what you eat.” With food poisoning, it’s no surprise that eating tainted food can leave you feeling pretty tainted yourself. College food poisoning incidents are high, partially due to things like eating food that’s been left out all day, opting for the cheapest (not always safest) food options, and eating old food from the back of the fridge when there’s nothing else edible around. In dining halls, food poisoning can affect a large number of people really quickly, because all the same foods are being shared. The norovirus in particular thrives in densely populated areas like colleges. If you get food poisoning, the most important thing to do is to drink plenty of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re sick, and that in itself can cause a whole host of other problems.
Depending on how serious your symptoms are, you may want to visit the campus health center to ensure you’re staying properly hydrated, and that antibiotics are not necessary.
For any health issues on campus or elsewhere, having adequate insurance coverage is paramount to getting quality care. Students have many options for finding a health insurance plan that works for a student budget. You may also benefit from tuition refund insurance, which can help reimburse tuition costs if a student is forced to withdraw from school due to a covered medical issue.