A students guide to common health problems


Going away from home to university for the first time can be difficult, and it is even worse if you get sick. For many people this might be the first time that you have had to deal with being unwell and away from home and it can be a frightening prospect. This quick guide hopes to give you some information about how to deal with some common problems and also tell you when it is important to contact a doctor and when it isn’t. Remember that this information is a guide and if you are feeling unsure you should always consult a medical professional.

Minor Aliments

I have a cough/sore throat/cold

These are probably the most common problems that you will come across especially if you are living in halls of residence. They are usually caused by a viral infection and will resolve within a few days.

  • The best way to cope with this is to rest and drink lots of fluid and generally take care of yourself.
  • If you have aches which you sometimes may have take some paracetamol to help.
  • You do NOT need antibiotics to treat a common cold or tonsilitis.
  • Coughs can last for up to 3 weeks.
  • If your symptoms appear to be getting worse or don’t improve AT ALL after a week you may need to consult your doctor.

I have Diarrhoea and Vomiting

When you are in halls this is probably the last problem that you want to have however it is not uncommon. This is often caused by a bacterium or virus that you have eaten in your food and will usually resolve itself within 48 hours. During this time there are some steps that you can take to ease the problem.

  • Try to avoid eating solid food
  • Drink regular small amounts of a sweet flat drink like flat Lucozade or Cola (Make sure its the flat lucozade sport not the original fizzy lucozade as the fizzy one specifically say do not drink if you have Diarrhoea). It is better to drink small amounts regularly.
  • You may want to take an over the counter antidiarrheal medication like Imodium which can be very effective at easing the symptoms.
  • If you are feeling nauseous mint flavoured sweets or chewing gum can ease this
  • Most importantly if your symptoms are not improved within 48 hours go and consult your Doctor

Burns or Scalds

If you or one of your housemates is unfortunate enough to burn or scold yourselves then the most important thing you can do is not panic. Take these steps and you should know what to do

  • Run the burn or scalded area under cold water for 10 minutes or until the pain ceases whichever is the longer
  • If the skin is blistering apply a dry, clean loose dressing and give paracetamol for the pain
  • If the skin is broken or the area that has been burnt/scolded is larger that 5 inches in diameter is very important that you immediately go to your local accident and emergency department


This type of injury is usually caused by damage to your ligaments and can be very painful. This pain is not going to go away over night but these are some things that you can do to help. Just remember the acronym ‘’’RICE’’’.

  • REST = You should be resting the area that is hurting
  • ICE = Applying an ice pack (or more likely a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel) for up to 30 minutes can reduce pain and swelling
  • COMFORTABLE SUPPORT= This used to be 'compression' but studies found compression cana actually do more harm than good. Instead, just try to make sure that your limb is comfortable and in a good position.
  • ELEVATION = If you elevate the damaged limb there will be less further swelling
  • You should be able to do gentle movement with your sprained limb within 48 hours if you aren’t able to then consult your GP


If you cut yourself it is important not to panic, you have to keep a clear head to be able to assess the situation. Here is what you should do:

  • Wash the cut with water
  • Put a clean dressing on it this doesn’t need to be a plaster it can be something like a clean handkerchief. Then apply pressure to reduce the bleeding
  • Raise the injury if the bleed is moderate to severe as this can reduce the bleeding.
  • Once the bleeding has stopped put a clean dressing on the wound (Be carefull not to peel off a scab as this can cause the bleeding to start again).
  • Take paracetamol if needed.
  • Go to hospital if the wound cannot be cleaned or the bleeding is uncontrollable, maintain pressure on the wound.


It is relatively common for people to develop rashes, this can be a mild reaction to something that you have come in contact to like a washing powder. Some people are more prone to rashes than others.

  • A mild antihistamine can be bought from the pharmacist to bring down the rash without a prescription.
  • If the rash is itching a moisturising cream like E45 can help
  • Contact your doctor is the rash lasts more than 48 hours
  • Go to hospital if the Rash doesn’t disappear when a glass is rolled over it (see section on meningitis), or you have any tongue swelling or difficulty breathing.

Nose Bleeds

If you or someone you live with is having a nose bleed it can be tempting to follow the old wives tale of putting your head back this is in fact the opposite to what you should be doing

  • Sit upright over a bowl and pinch your nose just below the bone for 10 minutes
  • If this is unsuccessful and the bleeding doesn’t appear to stop after two attempts go to the hospital
  • Avoid blowing your nose or having hot drinks for the next 24 hours if possible.

Infectious Diseases to Watch out for

There are a number of potentially dangerous infections that you are at higher risk of if you live in halls. This is simply because there are a large number of people living in close proximity so disease can spread more easily.


There has been a lot of attention in the news about meningitis is recent years. It is a bacterial or viral infection which causes the lining of your brain to swell causing a dangerous condition that can be potentially fatal. It is important that you look out for the signs of meningitis in both yourself and the people that you know as prompt action in very important.

  • High temperature – sometimes with chills
  • Severe headache
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Nausea and or Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Drowsiness and/or confusion
  • Sore throat
  • Seizure
  • A rash which doesn’t disappear if you roll a glass over it

These are the main signs of meningitis if you think you or anyone you know are exhibiting these signs it is important that you see a doctor immediately so either make and emergency call to your GP or go to your local Accident and emergency department, you don't need to wait to see if all of the symptoms appear: if you have 3 or more of the symptoms get medical help. A temperature and rash which doesn't disappear if you roll a glass over it (non-blanching) is a medical emergency, call an ambulance immediately!


Measles is a disease that hopefully you would have been vaccinated against as a child but it is still important that you know what a measles infection looks like. If you get measles you will most likely have the following symptoms.

  • You will feel generally unwell
  • A patchy red rash will develop on the face and body
  • Dry cough
  • Red eyes
  • Intolerance to light

Here is what you should do

  • Call out your GP
  • Drink as much as you need
  • Take paracetamol if you have aches


Like measles it is likely that you will have been vaccinated against mumps as a child but you can still get it even if you have been vaccinated. It is important that you watch out for signs of it as it can potentially lead to meningitis.

The signs and symptoms of mumps are

  • A swelling just in front of you ear in most cases this will be on both sides
  • Pain
  • Fever

It is important that you go to your GP if you think that you might have mumps. You can control the symptoms with paracetamol.

Chicken Pox

You are most likely to have had chicken pox as a child however some of you may have escaped this. The main symptoms of chicken pox are:

  • Rash – small red 3mm spots which turn into blisters
  • These can affect the scalp
  • It this affects the palate swallowing can be difficult.

The treatment usually consists of Calamine lotion to sooth the itching and paracetamol for any pain. It is also worth consulting your doctor as chicken pox has the capability of being quite severe in adulthood.


Flu is a disease of your lungs and is something that most of us have to experience at some point or another. It can make you feel very unwell and is also quite contagious. The main symptoms of flu are

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Aching
  • Tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Difficulty Sleeping

When you have the flu you are most likely going to be feeling very unwell so stay in bed and rest. Make sure you continue to take in fluids and take paracetamol to help with any aches or pains that you might have. If symptoms progress or you start to have trouble breathing consult your doctor.

Freshers Flu

This is something that a large proportion of university students get in the first term of university. It can range from a cold to a flu like illness and generally leaves you feeling very unwell. If you do get sick follow the advice given in the rest of this article and don’t be afraid to contact your doctor if you feel that it is necessary.


So there you go a run down of the common problems and infectious diseases that you might be unfortunate enough to come to. The most important thing is that when you are sick you take it easy and try to feel better. Also always consult a doctor if your think that your condition may be serious it is always better to be safe that sorry.