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What to do if you get sick

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It is difficult to be sick when you are away from home. You are accustomed to being taken care of when you are ill and suddenly you are on your own. Making a decision about what you need to do to take care of yourself may be more of a problem when you are not feeling well.

If you are sick, there are a few things you can do to feel better and reduce the time you spend feeling bad:

  • Listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel tired, take a nap or at least lie down and rest. If you’re hungry, eat something.
  • Get more sleep. If you’re in college, you probably aren’t getting the necessary 7-9 hours of sleep each day. When you’re sick, you need to sleep so your body has time to recover.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking nourishing liquids like chicken soup, 100% fruit juice, and water. Stay away from dehydrating beverages like alcohol and soda.
  • Treat your symptoms. Make sure that any over-the-counter (OTC) medicine you take will treat what you have. Read the small print on the back of the box to check what symptoms the medicine treats and that it is safe for you to use. You can also talk to a pharmacist or your student health center for OTC suggestions. You may be able to purchase OTC medications at the student health center.
  • Know when to see a professional. If rest and taking care of yourself doesn’t cure you, you may need to see a doctor. Some reasons you may want to see a doctor are persistent fever or coughing, trouble keeping food down, chest pain, headaches or congestion that won’t go away, painful swallowing, or difficulty breathing. Contact your student health center for an appointment or call them for walk-in hours.
  • Get vaccinated. You might want to consider getting the influenza vaccination. It’s very easy to catch the flu bug in a college environment. You will be exposed to many germs and the vaccine may prevent several flu episodes. Other vaccines that you should consider include those for tetanus, meningitis, HPV, polio, MMR, Hepatitis, and chicken pox. You may have required some of these before entering college.
  • Wash your hands. You are around many people and their germs. Washing your hands is the easiest and most effective way to prevent illness. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your backpack for those times you don’t have access to soap and water.

Some schools have a 24 hour hotline for medical advice. These hotlines are usually staffed by nurses. The nurse may be able to help you decide if your illness can be treated on your own, if you need to see a doctor, or if you should go to the emergency room. You will need to use your own judgment on whether to go to the emergency room. Here are some general guidelines to help you make the decision. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, strongly consider a trip to the emergency room:

  • Loss of consciousness/change in consciousness/seizure
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Sudden, severe pain (abdominal, chest, head) which is not relieved with over the counter medication.
  • A major injury
  • Bleeding that does not stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure or a deep cut which may need stitches to stop the bleeding.
  • Poisoning or overdose
  • Severe reaction to an insect bite or sting, or to a medication (especially if breathing becomes difficult)
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Severe vaginal bleeding – this may indicate a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy

If your illness is minor, it may just take time to get better. If you are going to miss class, contact your professors to let them know. Make arrangements to get notes and hand-outs from a classmate (see – it pays to talk to people in class!). Keep in mind that being sick will probably result in more work temporarily – you may have to play catch-up.

Be kind to yourself while you are recovering. Go ahead and call home to let them know you are sick. Sometimes nothing beats some sympathy and TLC from Mom.

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