Is College Making You Sick?

Have you gone to college, only to find yourself with a constant case of the sniffles? Unless you’re crying into your pillow each night from homesickness, a constantly stuffed nose isn’t normal. The truth of the matter is this: College can be making you sick. Here are five things that you need to know:

1.The Shower

No matter how clean you are when you get into the shower, you can never be sure how clean the shower itself is. Bacteria called NTM, or nontuberculous mycobacteria, could be lurking in the showerheads. In fact, Dr. Mark Millard of the Baylor Medical Center tells us that we are surrounded by these bacteria every time we enter a warm, moist environment. As hot water is sprayed through the shower head, these bacteria are released; they aerosolize and enter your lungs as you breathe. Though most people won’t get sick, those with asthma or chronic upper respiratory conditions could be sensitive to NTM bacteria.

2.The Dorm Room

It’s not unusual for colleges to revamp dorm rooms before students move in for the new school year. Unfortunately, some students can be sensitive to the chemicals contained in paint, furniture and cleaning products. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, can cause dizziness, nausea and allergy-like symptoms. Find out if your college has used these chemicals in the cleaning and redecorating of your dorm room.

3.The Vents

Did you know that you can be sensitive to dust? Dust can settle in vents during warmer weather when there is no air moving through. When you turn on the heat in the fall, this dust can blow out, causing allergic reactions. If you feel like you’re continuously ill, you may want to ask your college’s building department to check your vents. You may also want to step up your cleaning habits.

4.The Dining Hall

Do you get sick after you eat? Do you seem to suffer with nausea if you eat certain foods? While there may be nothing wrong with the fare in your dining hall, you may have a food sensitivity that you don’t know about. Illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome can flare when your body experiences higher-than-normal levels of stress. Keep a food diary and start tracking when you feel sick; you may find a pattern that can help you to avoid your triggers.

5.Your Options

When you get sick in school, you won’t have mom and dad to rely on; it’s important that you understand your options. Most major colleges and universities have a student health clinic on campus that is staffed by highly-qualified doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses or some combination of the three. A visit to the clinic is typically free, save for the cost of any prescription medication that you need.

You can also look off-campus for a clinic that can meet your healthcare needs. You can look for a physician’s office, an urgent care, or even a walk-in clinic at a local drug store chain. Walgreen’s and CVS both have walk-in clinics, at select locations, staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners. These clinics are a cost-effective way to have your health needs met.

When you know how college can make you sick, you can be better prepared to protect yourself. By understanding your care options, you will know where to go if you need medical attention. A word of advice: Be sure to scope out these locations before you get ill; you don’t want to spend time searching Google or the campus directory when you’re not feeling well.

Lewis West is an avid higher ed blogger. Are you a nurse? If you’re interested in furthering your nursing education there are several schools that offer masters programs, such as Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.

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