College Health Issues
Browse conditions and diseases affecting college students. Get to know the causes, symptoms and when you need to seek medical attention. Help is available on campus and in the Moscow community.
Questions? Email Vandal Health Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learning to recognize and cope with stress during your college career can help you excel.
Stress is defined as a response to a demand that is placed upon you. Without some stress, people would not get a lot done. That extra burst of adrenaline that helps you finish your final paper, perform well in sports and meet challenges is positive stress. It is a short-term physiological tension and added mental alertness that subsides when the challenge has been met, enabling you to relax and carry on.
Responses to stress can be physical, such as a headache. It can be emotional, such as fear or sadness. And it can also be mental, such as increased anxiety. If you cannot return to a relaxed state, the stress becomes negative. Changes in your body — increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and muscle tension — start to take their toll, often leading to mental and physical exhaustion and illness. Too much stress can cause problems and affect our health, productivity and relationships.
How to Manage Stress
- Have a positive attitude
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Exercise regularly
- Eat well
- Utilize your support network – Talk to your friends and family. Social time can also work wonders on stress levels.
- Identify the sources of your stress
- Get adequate sleep
- Don’t be afraid to take short breaks from studying
- Get some quiet time away from other students
- Learn to relax and take a deep breath
- Don’t be afraid to talk to professors about extensions if you have experienced an illness or traumatic event
Sleep is a vital part of your overall wellness. Getting to know your body and creating healthy sleep patterns is important to your success in college.
College students are among the most sleep-deprived people in the country. This may be due to the irregularity of their sleeping habits.
According to a 2001 study, only 11 percent of college students have good sleep quality, and 73 percent have occasional sleep problems. This same study found that 18 percent of college men and 30 percent of college women reported suffering from insomnia within the past three months, and more than half reported feeling sleepy in the morning.
Most people need to sleep about eight hours each night. This is especially true for college students, since the deep sleep that occurs early in the night and the dream sleep that occurs later in the night are both required to learn. But the necessary amount of sleep varies from individual to individual. This is one case where quality is more important than quantity — if you feel alert and rested during the day, you've probably gotten enough sleep.
How to Get a Better Night's Sleep
- Relax – An alert mind may make it difficult to sleep. Try to slow the pace of your activities in the evening. Do some light reading or watch TV until you become drowsy, and then try to fall asleep naturally. If there's a lot on your mind, try writing down a detailed list and then forgetting about it.
- Avoid or limit caffeine and nicotine — which are stimulants — and alcohol, which can cause restless sleep and frequent awakenings during the night.
- Exercise and stay active — Twenty to 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity enhances deep sleep, but avoid exercising in the six hours before bedtime, since it increases alertness.
- Avoid long naps — Naps of less than 30 minutes can actually be quite refreshing during the naturally occurring mid-afternoon slump, but napping for much longer than this can make you drowsy and interfere with a good night's sleep.
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day — A regular sleep pattern reduces insomnia and increases your alertness during the day. Try to begin this sleep pattern a couple of weeks before classes start, so you are less tired in class.
These illnesses affect thousands of college students every year and are especially common in the winter or rainy seasons. There are over one billion colds in the United States each year.
Meningitis has two different forms — viral and bacterial. The latter can cause severe brain damage and death, and needs immediate medical attention.
A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is an infection of the sinus cavities, the mucous-producing air filled cavities behind and adjacent to our nose and eyes. The most common cause of sinus infections are viruses.
When we are well, the normal mucous that is produced in our sinuses exits via a tiny opening into our noses on a regular basis. Once in our nose, we blow or clean our noses as necessary. When we get a "cold" or a viral respiratory infection, the opening from the sinuses into our noses can get congested and obstructed with sticky mucous. This obstructed sinus can cause a sensation of pressure in our cheeks, teeth, around our nose, eyes, or forehead. Because the mucous can't exit via its normal route, the mucous begins to drain down the back of the throat.
We have all experienced this sensation as needing to clear our throats. In it's mildest form, we have the occasional need to “ahem” or clear our throat. At its worst, the drainage triggers recurrent bouts of gagging and coughing. This is called postnasal drip. At night, while we sleep, mucous drains with gravity. This can make us cough, disrupting sleep. Postnasal drip is one of the most common causes of cough in young adults.
Other symptoms that may occur with sinus congestion include sore throat, particularly on awakening, due to all the mucous that has collected. Mucous from the nose and throat may be discolored in the morning because it has accumulated and dried during sleep. Many times the color and thickness will clear once you are up and about. Ears can also feel blocked because the eustachian tubes get obstructed by the same congested tissue.
Occasionally, bacteria can infect obstructed sinuses. Symptoms indicative of this can be similar to those of viral infections. However, a bacterial infection is suggested when sinus congestive symptoms do not improve or worsen after seven to 10 days of cold symptoms. Mucous may become more persistently discolored — yellow, green, brown or blood-tinged — and this discoloration doesn’t clear during the day. Pain and tenderness over the cheeks, nose, teeth or eyes may worsen and may be found to intensify when bending over. A loss of taste and smell may occur with worsening cough. Fever may develop with increasing weakness or fatigue. Like any illness, symptoms vary among individuals. However, if this is what you are experiencing, see your provider.
Fortunately, most of the time, congested sinuses clear on their own over 7-10 days. However, there are two things you can use to help this process along: decongestants and moisture— particularly in the form of sinus irrigation.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, the air passages that extend from the windpipe into the lungs, that may be caused by viruses, mycoplasma, bacteria, smoking or inhalation of chemical pollutants or dust.
The cells that line the bronchi have tiny hairs, or cilia, that trap and eliminate pollutants. When these cells become overly irritated, they stop functioning. Consequently, the air passages become clogged by debris, and irritation increases. In response, a heavy secretion of mucous develops, which causes the characteristic cough of bronchitis.
Brief bouts of acute bronchitis may evolve from a severe cold or flu, but may also begin without having had an infection. If you have underlying asthma, bronchitis may precipitate an asthma attack. Even if you have no history of asthma, bronchitis may trigger some asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Smoking is frequently associated with chronic bronchitis.
- Deep cough that produces yellowish or greenish phlegm
- Pain behind the breastbone when you breathe deeply or cough
- Low-grade fever or chills
- Sore muscles
Mononucleosis — often referred to as mono or "the kissing disease" — is a viral infection that causes fever, sore throat and swollen lymph glands, especially in the neck. It is often spread by saliva and close contact.
- General discomfort, uneasiness or ill feeling
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches or stiffness
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck and armpit
- Swollen spleen
During a physical examination, the doctor may find swollen lymph nodes in the front and back of your neck, as well as swollen tonsils with a whitish-yellow covering. The doctor might also feel a swollen liver or swollen spleen when pushing on your belly. There may be a skin rash. Blood work often reveals a higher-than-normal white blood cell count and unusual-looking white blood cells called atypical lymphocytes, which are seen when blood is examined under a microscope. Atypical lymphocytes and abnormal liver function tests are a hallmark sign of the disease.
It is not essential to contact your health care provider unless symptoms last for longer than 10 days or you develop one of the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Breathing difficulty
- Persistent high fevers
- Severe headache
- Severe sore throat or swollen tonsils
- Weakness in the arm or legs
- Yellow discoloration of your eyes or skin
Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you develop:
- Sharp, sudden, severe abdominal pain
- Significant difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Stiff neck or severe weakness
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Gargle with warm salt to ease a sore throat
- Get plenty of rest
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever
Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus.
Mumps typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite. It is followed by swelling of salivary glands. Anyone who is not immune from either a previous mumps infection or from vaccination can get mumps.
Before the routine vaccination program was introduced in the United States, mumps was a common illness in infants, children and young adults. Because most children and adults have been vaccinated, mumps is rare in the United States.
Currently, there is no specific treatment for mumps. Supportive care should be given as needed. If someone becomes very ill, they should seek medical attention. If someone seeks medical attention, they should call their doctor in advance to avoid the waiting room, where they could infect others.
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears or jaw on one or both sides of the face (parotitis)
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the best way to prevent mumps. The vaccine should be routinely given when children are 12-15 months old, and a second dose should be given when they are 4-6 years old. Two doses of the vaccine are more effective against mumps than one dose and prevent most, but not all, cases of mumps and complications.
Most people with mumps recover fully. However, mumps can occasionally cause complications, and some can be serious. Complications may occur even if a person does not have swollen salivary glands (parotitis) and are more common in people who have reached puberty. Complications can include:
- Inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) in males who have reached puberty, which rarely leads to sterility
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
- Inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and/or breasts (mastitis) in females who have reached puberty
- Temporary or permanent deafness
Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes or talks.
Items used by an infected person, such as cups or soft drink cans, can also be contaminated with the virus, which may spread to others if those items are shared. In addition, the virus may spread when someone with mumps touches items or surfaces without washing their hands and someone else then touches the same surface and rubs their mouth or nose.
Most mumps transmission occurs before the salivary glands begin to swell or within five days after the swelling begins. Therefore, CDC recommends isolating mumps patients for five days after their glands begin to swell.
If you have mumps, there are several things you can do to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Minimize close contact with other people, especially babies and people with weakened immune systems who cannot be vaccinated.
- Stay home from work or school for five days after your glands begin to swell, and try not to have close contact with other people who live in your house.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put your used tissue in the trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
- Wash hands well and often with soap, and teach children to wash their hands, too.
- Don’t share drinks or eating utensils.
- Regularly clean surfaces that are frequently touched — such as toys, doorknobs, tables and counters — with soap and water or with cleaning wipes.
Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, causes vomiting and diarrhea, but is unrelated to the flu virus.
Gastroenteritis means inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses that results in vomiting or diarrhea. It is often called the stomach flu, although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.
Viral gastroenteritis is not caused by bacteria — such as the Salmonella species or Escherichia coli — or parasites — such as Giardia lamblia — or by medications, or other medical conditions, although the symptoms may be similar. Your doctor can determine if the diarrhea is caused by a virus or by something else.
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps or stomach ache
In general, symptoms begin one to two days following infection with a virus that causes gastroenteritis and may last for one to 10 days, depending on which virus causes the illness.
Generally, viral gastroenteritis is diagnosed by a physician on the basis of the symptoms and medical examination of the patient. The most important part of treating viral gastroenteritis in children and adults is to prevent severe loss of fluids or dehydration. This treatment should begin at home. Your physician may give you specific instructions about what kinds of fluid to give.