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Ages & Stages

Common Health Problems at College

With students living together in dorms and apartments, eating together in cafeterias, and sitting together in classrooms, illnesses and infections can spread easily. Here is a brief guide to common illnesses and what you should do if you get one. 

Colds & Flu

These are caused by viruses. While sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between them, colds usually cause milder symptoms than the flu

Common cold symptoms include: 

Flu symptoms include: 

  • Higher fever (commonly above 102°F or 39°C)
  • Body aches
  • Dry cough
  • Upset stomach or vomiting

What you can do: 

The most you can do is rest, drink a lot of fluids, and treat the symptoms. You can try using over-the-counter cold and flu medicines or fever and pain medicines. They may help you feel better. However, do not take aspirin when you have the flu. Your pediatrician or the student health service can suggest which medicines may help your symptoms, as well as answer your questions. You may be able to schedule a telehealth visit​ with your doctor using a video or phone call. 

Some types of the flu can be treated with antiviral agents, but you have to take them during the first or second day of the illness, and a prescription is required. They can help you feel better faster. 


These tips can help lower your risk of getting a cold or the flu. 

Strep Throat, Sinus Infections & Ear Infections

These are caused by bacteria. 

Symptoms may include: 

What you can do: 

If you have these symptoms, go to the student health service. The staff will be able to tell you what the problem is and give you antibiotics if you need them. If you need to take antibiotics, take them exactly as you are told and be sure to take all of them. If you don't, the infection can come back. 


  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has an infection. That means no kissing or sharing drinks or utensils with someone who is ill.
  • See your doctor for regular checkups.

Meningococcal Disease

A common form of this is meningitis. This disease can infect the brain, the spinal cord, blood, or a combination of these. 

Symptoms include: 

  • High fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • A flat, pink, red, or purple rash
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light

What you can do: 

It is important to seek medical treatment right away. The disease can be fatal or may result in permanent brain damage or lifelong problems with the nervous system. 


The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for teens 11 through 18 years of age and for college freshmen living in dorms. The vaccine is effective against most, but not all, strains of the bacteria that cause this infection. 

Bruises, Sprains & Strains

These are very common and are usually not very serious.

Here's how to tell the difference between them:

  • Bruises cause the skin to turn purple, brown, or red in color.
  • Strains are injuries to muscles and tendons that result from too much or sudden stretching.
  • Sprains are injuries to the ligaments, the connecting tissue between bones.

What you can do: 

  • Use the RICE method of treatment. 
  • Rest—especially for the first 24 hours.
  • Ice—put ice packs or cold gel packs on the injury for 20 minutes every 4 hours.
  • Compression—wrap the injured body part in an elastic bandage.
  • Elevation—for example, if you have sprained your ankle, prop your foot up on pillows to keep it at a level higher than your heart.
  • Visit the student health service if your pain or swelling does not get better in 1 to 2 days or if you are unable to put any weight on the injured area. 


  • Being physically active is a great way to stay healthy, but be smart and avoid injuries by 
  • Using the right safety gear (such as pads and helmets).
  • Warming up and cooling down. Stretch out before and after you exercise or play a sport.
  • Taking breaks. Don't exercise or play through pain.

Mononucleosis ("Mono")

College students often worry about a disease called "mono"—also known as "the kissing disease." Mono is caused by a virus. 

Symptoms include:  

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck
  • Extreme tiredness

What you can do: 

If you have a sore throat or bad flu that doesn't go away in a week to 10 days, see your doctor. Mono is diagnosed by a blood test called the monospot test. There is no specific treatment for mono; just get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet. 

Don't Ignore These Symptoms. Call the Student Health Service Right Away If You Have: 

  • A fever of 102°F (39°C) or higher
  • A headache and a stiff neck
  • Pain with urination
  • An unusual discharge from your penis or vagina
  • A change in your menstrual cycle
  • Pain in the abdomen that will not go away
  • A persistent cough, chest pain, or trouble breathing
  • Pain or any other symptoms that worry you or last longer than you think they should

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Health Care for College Students (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 4/07)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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