With the beginning of the school year approaching, college students need to worry about much more than lectures and exams.
Students can easily become distracted by the freedom that college offers, and this can leave them vulnerable to illness -- especially those who are living away from home for the first time.
“College students in a campus environment live in close proximity to one another, which can create opportunity for infections like the flu, the common cold, and sometimes more serious illnesses, to spread quickly,” said Dr. Andrew Gotlin, medical director at the Ryan/Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center in New York City.
The new school year brings forth some unsanitary, not to mention unhealthy, behaviors. Here are some that students need to think about in college:
1. Community Bathroom Blunders
Sharing a bathroom can be downright nasty.
“In total, 50 girls lived in the hall and, because the bathroom really was so gross, you would expect people to wear shoes," said Elizabeth Conigliaro, 20, who attends Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. "Almost everyone went into the bathroom without shoes, all the time. I understand if you share a bathroom with three other people and you don’t want to wear shoes, but 50 girls in one bathroom was chaos.”
The community bathroom has long been a staple on college campuses, yet some opt to go barefoot rather than wearing shower shoes or sandals when using the community bathroom. This is a no-no, according to Gotlin.
“Warm, moist environments like a communal shower often encourage the growth of germs such as fungi, like those that cause athlete’s foot, and bacteria, including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),” Gotlin said.
Bottom line: Spend a few bucks and buy yourself a pair of flip-flops for the shower. Not wearing them can have unhealthly consequences.
2. Dangerous Remedies to Stay Awake
Many college students rely on caffeinated beverages to keep them going when dealing with a tough week of exams or a pile of term papers that need to be written. But even a small intake of caffeine-laden products, such as coffee and energy drinks, can do more than just keep someone awake.
“Caffeine can have negative effects with consumption of as little as 300 milligrams of caffeine a day, the amount found in just a little under three cups of coffee, six cans of cola, or one to two energy drinks,” Gotlin said. “These effects can include headache and fatigue, dehydration, anxiety, stomach problems, and more serious effects in people with seizures, cardiac, liver, or kidney problems.”
Some students are also turning to Adderall, a prescription amphetamine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to help them amp up their concentration levels.
“I know many people who used Adderall pre-finals to stay awake in order to finish assignments,” said Jordan Coughenour, 19, of American University in Washington, D.C. “It seemed to work for them, getting the job done, but I have heard stories about people crashing or falling into deliriums in classes the following days.”
Adderall might seem like a quick fix to some students; but its short term benefits can have long-term effects on people who take it without a prescription.
“Prescription stimulants such as Adderall should only be taken as directed by a medical provider for the treatment of diagnoses such as attention deficit disorder,” Gotlin said. “If you have not been prescribed this medication, you should not take it. These drugs can cause serious cardiac and neurologic problems, especially if used incorrectly.”
3. Eating Good Health Away
In the world of endless studying and nonstop exams, students can forget to eat healthy. Instead, they can sometimes choose unhealthy alternatives that are more convenient.
“Fast food, pre-packaged snack foods, and take-out are often high in calories, saturated fats and salt,” said Gotlin. “Eating a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as getting enough vitamins and minerals, can go a long way toward preventing complications like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease both in college and later in life.”
Gotlin added that college students can also be prone to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. If you, or a college student you know, has one of those problems, have them see a health-care provider immediately.
“Freshman year, you’re getting used to school and (you) are just thrown into a dining hall with all these options, healthy and unhealthy,” said Emily Dore, 21, who attends Notre Dame University, located in Indiana.“It’s very tempting to just eat the good stuff — fries, cookies, and burgers – all the time. There’s a reason they call it the ‘freshman 15.'”
4. Binge Drinking
Binge drinking can be a problem at any age, and there is enormous temptation to engage in this behavior while at college.
Gotlin defined binge drinking as the primary intention of becoming intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time.
“Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of health problems, ranging from the mild to the more serious. In the short term, heavy drinking can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, feelings of depression, dehydration, and in severe cases, alcohol poisoning, which can be life-threatening,” Gotlin said.
5. Unprotected Sex = Unprotected Body
Even if a student is not having casual sex, he or she can still be at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Gotlin said unprotected sex should be avoided altogether.
“The best protection against STDs is a latex or polyurethane male or female condom, which is also (when used correctly every time) an excellent protection against pregnancy,” Gotlin said.
“Other contraceptive choices include hormonal methods, such as the birth control pill, patch, or ring, and more long-term methods such as an intrauterine device (IUD), although those do not protect against STDs.”
As the school year begins, it is important for college students to focus in on the effects of their behavior.
“Excessive alcohol consumption, unprotected sex, and misuse of prescription stimulants can have the most negative consequences,” Gotlin said.
“In order to minimize your risks, it is important to practice good hygiene, especially regular hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer," he added. "You should also speak with your health-care provider to make sure that all of your vaccines are up to date.”