General Education

Being Sick Away From Home: How to Take Care of Yourself

Being Sick Away From Home: How to Take Care of Yourself
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Alexandra Piacenza October 3, 2014

Getting sick at college can make you feel like you’re all alone, find out how you can take care of yourself and keep up with class.

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Getting sick is no fun under any circumstances, but when it happens the first time and you’re hundreds of miles away from Mom’s chicken soup, it can feel like a double whammy.

No doubt you can handle a case of the sniffles on your own, but what should you do if those sniffles turn into a deep chest cough, high fever, or other symptoms of a more serious health problem? First and foremost, don’t panic! As the saying (sort of) goes, “sick happens" — remember that the campus health clinic is there to help. University nurses have lots of experience diagnosing and treating the many ailing students who’ve gone before you.

Know When to Go to the Clinic

Clinic visits take time and can disrupt your class and study schedule, so it shouldn’t necessarily be your first move when you’re feeling badly.

When should you try to tough it out, and when should you hightail it to the doc? Here are six signals that it’s time to get some treatment for that cold you’ve been nursing:

  • You’re having trouble breathing and/or chest pain.
  • Your temperature is 100.5 or higher for more than a couple of days.
  • You’re upchucking everything, even water.
  • Your throat is so sore, you feel like a sword-swallower.
  • You’ve had a heavy cough for more than a couple of weeks.
  • You have a congestion headache that over-the-counter cold medicine can’t crack.

Speaking of over-the-counter meds, if you’re not experiencing the symptoms above, but still feeling pretty miserable, cold medicine and pain relievers available at the pharmacy can be a quick fix.

If you’re taking any other medications, you’ll want to check with the pharmacist to make sure there won’t be negative interactions. To help with body aches, invest in a heating pad — also great for warming your bed before you tuck yourself in. And make sure to purchase a thermometer to have on hand in your dorm room.

Keep Up With Classwork

You won’t be doing your roommates or classmates any favors by dragging yourself around campus and into classrooms when you’re sneezing and coughing germs. Stay in bed when you need to, without missing too much academically. Recruit classmates to take notes and email them to you. When possible use your downtime to complete reading assignments.

If your absence is going to be prolonged, contact your professors to discuss possible extensions on assignment due dates. As a last resort, consider whether you may need to drop one or more courses — better to complete them next quarter or semester than to lower your GPA.

In addition to the symptoms already discussed, you should go to the clinic if you’ve had a physical injury resulting in severe pain or signs of concussion. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, get immediate medical attention.

# Signs of a broken bone:

  • Swelling or bruising in the area of a bone.
  • An arm or leg appearing to have abnormal shape or angles.
  • When you move or apply pressure to the injured area, the pain gets worse.
  • Range of motion/function is lost in the injured area.
  • The end of a finger or toe is numb or looks blue.
  • Your bone is sticking out through your skin (“Duh!").

# Signs of a concussion:

  • Losing consciousness for a short time
  • Trouble remembering
  • Feeling confused
  • A sluggish or drowsy feeling
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Your vision is blurred or you’re seeing double
  • Headache, nausea, or vomiting
  • Light or noise bothers you
  • Trouble keeping your balance
  • Slow reaction time

Finally, even if mom and dad can’t be in the room with you, there’s no rule against giving home a call for some verbal TLC and maybe to confirm that you’re taking the right steps.


When Should I See a Doctor for a Cold or Flu? (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2014, from WebMD

Fractures (broken bones): First aid. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2014, from MayoClinic

Concussion. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2014, from HealthLine


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