Leaving home and going to university 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 both 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 to contact a doctor and when it isn’t.
Remember; this information is a guide only, and if you are feeling unsure you should always consult a medical professional.
Coughs, sore throats, and colds
These are probably the most common problems that you will come across especially if you are living in halls. They are usually caused by a viral infection and will resolve within a few days.
- Rest. If you are having trouble sleeping because of a blocked nose, put a few drops of eucalyptus or tea tree oil on a cloth and hang it somewhere near your bed (or wherever you're sleeping).
- Ease any aches and pains with over-the-counter pain relief like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
- Antibiotics will not get rid of the common cold. This is because the common cold is a virus.
- Coughs can last for up to 3 weeks.
- If your symptoms do not improve, or get worse after 7 days, see your local pharmacist or your doctor.
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.
- Avoid eating solid food. Soups and smoothies are your best friend.
- Drink plenty of water as well as other fluids.
- Drink regular small amounts of a sweet flat drink like flat Lucozade or Coca Cola. Make sure if you're drinking anything carbonated it has gone flat.
- Drink small amounts regularly.
- You may want to take an over the counter antidiarrheal medication like Imodium.
- If you are feeling nauseous mint flavoured sweets or chewing gum can ease this
- If your symptoms do not improve within 48 hours, see your local pharmacist or your doctor.
Burns and scalds
A burn is caused by dry heat by an iron or fire, for example. A scald is caused by something wet heat, such as hot water or steam. Just remember that the amount of pain you feel isn't always related to how serious the burn is.
- Run the burnt or scalded area under cold water for until the pain eases. Don't use ice, iced water, or any creams or greasy substances such as butter.
- Use over-the-counter pain relief if needed.
- For minor burns, keep the burn clean and don't burst any blisters that form.
More serious burns require professional medical attention. You should go to a hospital emergency department for:
- all chemical and electrical burns
- large or deep burns—any burn bigger than your hand
- burns that cause white or charred skin—any size
- burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs, or genitals that cause blisters
Sprains and strains
A sprain occurs when one or more ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn, usually as a result of excessive force being applied to a joint. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints that connect bones to one another. A strain occurs when muscle fibres stretch or tear. It's usually the result of the muscle being stretched beyond its limits or forced to contract (shorten) too quickly. RICE will help you in a pinch.
- Rest the area that is hurting
- Ice the affected area for up to 30 minutes to reduce pain and swelling
- Comfortably support the area.
- Elevate the affected area to reduce swelling.
Visit a minor injuries unit or your doctor if you think you have a sprain or strain and:
- the pain is particularly severe
- you can't move the injured joint or muscle
- you can't put any weight on the injured limb or it gives way when you try to use it
- the injured area looks crooked or has unusual lumps or bumps (other than swelling)
- you have numbness, discolouration or coldness in any part of the injured area
- the symptoms haven't started to improve within a few days of self-treatment
Cuts and grazes
Most cuts and grazes are minor and can be easily treated. Stopping the bleeding, cleaning the wound thoroughly, and covering it with a dressing is usually all that's needed.
- Stop any bleeding before applying a dressing to the wound. Apply pressure to the area using a clean and dry absorbent material such as a bandage, towel, or handkerchief for several minutes.
- If the cut is to your hand or arm, raise it above your head to help reduce the flow of blood.
- If the injury is to a lower limb, lie down and raise the affected area above the level of your heart.
- When the wound has stopped bleeding, clean it and cover it with a dressing to help stop it becoming infected.
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.
- Clean the wound under drinking-quality running tap water. Avoid using antiseptic as it may damage the skin and slow healing.
- Pat the area dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a sterile adhesive dressing, such as a plaster.
Go to your nearest a emergency department as soon as possible if:
- you cannot stop the bleeding
- you're bleeding from an artery (blood from an artery comes out in spurts with each beat of the heart, and is bright red and usually hard to control)
- you experience persisting or significant loss of sensation near the wound or you're having trouble moving any body parts
- you have received a severe cut to the face—you may require urgent treatment to prevent scarring
- you have received a cut to the palm of your hand and it looks infected
- there's a possibility a foreign body is still inside the wound
- the wound is very large or the injury has caused a lot of tissue damage
A rash usually appears because of a skin sensitivity or mild allergic reaction.
- Mild antihistamines can be bought from the pharmacy to treat the rash without a prescription.
- If the rash is itching, essential oils like lavender help.
- If the rash doesn't improve within 48 hours, visit your local pharmacist or doctor.
- 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. The latter symptoms could indicate anaphalaxis.
If you're having a nosebleed it can be tempting to follow the old wives tale of putting your head back and perhaps pinching your nose. This is, in fact, the complete 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.
Major infectious diseases
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.
Meningitis is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Bacterial meningitis is rarer but more serious than viral meningitis.
- 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
- 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 three 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 doctor
- 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
It is important that you go to your doctor if you think that you might have mumps. You can control the symptoms with paracetamol.
Most children will catch chickenpox at some point. It can also occur in adults who didn't have it when they were a child. It's usually mild and clears up in a week or so, but it can be dangerous for some people, such as pregnant women, newborn babies, and people with a weakened immune system.
- The symptoms of chickenpox start one to three weeks after becoming infected.
The main symptom is a rash that develops in three stages:
- spots—red raised spots develop on the face or chest before spreading to other parts of the body
- blisters—over the next few hours or the following day, very itchy fluid-filled blisters develop on top of the spots
- scabs and crusts—after a further few days, the blisters dry out and scab over to form a crust; the crusts then gradually fall off by themselves over the next week or two
- Chickenpox is contagious until all the blisters have scabbed over, which usually happens about five or six days after the rash appeared.
Chickenpox can usually be treated at home. You'll probably feel pretty miserable and uncomfortable, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.
- Use paracetamol to relieve fever and discomfort. Don't use anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen, as they can sometimes make people with chickenpox very ill.
- Use calamine lotion, moisturising creams, or cooling gels to ease itching.
- Tap or pat the skin rather than scratching it. It's important to avoid scratching because this can lead to further problems.
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
Chickenpox is normally mild and gets better on its own. But some people can become more seriously ill and need to seek medical advice. Visit your doctor if:
- the symptoms haven't started to improve after six days
- you've been in contact with someone who has chickenpox (or you have symptoms) and you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system
- you have signs of chickenpox complications, such as swollen and painful skin, difficulty breathing, or dehydration
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:
- 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.
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 into contact with. 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.