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When Your College Student Gets Sick

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

My phone has been ringing frequently these days with calls from college students asking for advice because they are sick. It doesn’t matter if you go to school in the north or south, if the school is big or small, students living in dorms and close quarters are gathering together and therefore pass their viruses from one to another. And with finals looming, students are getting less sleep, feel stressed and their bodies are succumbing to their first (or maybe more) upper respiratory illness.  The hardest part is that “said student” is now away from home and both the parent and the child feel helpless.

After talking with students, many said they felt “feverish” but had not taken their temperature.  They also all complained of sore throats, congestion and coughing.

The biggest complaint was that they felt “MISERABLE” and wanted to be sure that they did not have some life threatening illness.  They had also often convinced their parents that this illness could not possibly be a cold, or viral upper respiratory illness. Surely the doctor at the student health center was wrong!

My advice? Every parent should create a “medical box” containing a thermometer, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, throat lozenges, cough syrup, tea bags and instant soup or broth packets.  I have created one for my own sons.

If your college student calls with complaints that sound like a cold send then a “medical box”.  Have them take their temperatures as most of the time you may run a low grade fever for a day or two with a cold, and then the fever resolves.

If they have a fever, remind them of the correct doses for acetaminophen and ibuprofen and how frequently to take the medication. Talk them through treating their symptoms and getting some much needed rest.

Encourage them to push fluids, eat the chicken soup, and to make sure they are washing their hands and covering their mouths when they cough (that advice never stops!).  A little TLC, even if it is just over the phone, goes a long way!

Lastly, take this opportunity to remind them that this is just a cold and to run and get a flu shot before the flu season is really upon us.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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