Tips for Teens to Stay Healthy at College
New college students have always faced an increased risk of illness from the flu, meningitis, mononucleosis and colds. But the COVID-19 pandemic brings a whole new host of worries. Some colleges are keeping instruction online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but many universities are bringing students back to campus with new health precautions in place. However, when you’re living with a roommate (or two) and sharing restrooms, showers, desks and dining space, germs are bound to spread. All those doorknobs, stair rails, and bathroom faucets are being touched by hundreds of hands daily. Students also love to share drinks. As a result, illnesses tend to flourish on college campuses.
If your teen is headed to a college campus this Fall, here are the most important things you need to tell your student to do to prevent ALL types of illnesses and stay healthy:
Keep Supplies Handy
In this new age of coronavirus, students need to stay prepared. Everywhere your teen goes, they should have tissues, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and a face mask with them. Get travel packs of these items and encourage your student to keep them in their backpack. While face masks are bound to be unpopular with this age group, experts are saying that masks are probably the most effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and will certainly protect against other illnesses as well.
Wash Your Hands
Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting many illnesses. Remind your teen that they should wash their hands frequently throughout the day with soap or sanitizer for at least 20 seconds and to avoid touching their eyes, face, and mouth as much as possible.
College students love to share with each other, but this is a sure way to spread illnesses. Advise your teen to not share drinks, water bottles, or utensils with anyone.
Avoid People Who Are Sick
Encourage your teen to stay away from anyone who is showing symptoms of being sick. They should not make plans with someone who is coughing or sneezing. If their roommate is ill, they should avoid spending long periods of time together in the room and try to stay on different sides of the room when together. If your teen needs to go in a space where social distancing (6 feet apart) is not possible, they should wear a face mask.
Cover Coughs and Sneezes
Remind your teen to always cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of their elbow to prevent spreading illnesses.
Disinfect Touched Objects and Surfaces
In college, so many objects and surfaces are shared among students on campus – door knobs, stair rails, keyboards in computer labs, and elevator buttons to name just a few. Encourage your teen to clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs. They should carry disinfecting wipes with them if they plan on using shared campus objects or surfaces. They should wash their hands after they touch a communal surface. Remind your teen that cleaning their living space regularly is also a good habit. Cleaning door knobs, keyboard and mouse, bathrooms and bed sheets can go a long way in keeping your living space sanitary.
Make sure your teen is up to date on all of their immunizations, including an annual flu shot. Most colleges offer the flu shot for free on campus. Even though there is not a vaccine for the coronavirus, preventing other illnesses, such as the flu and meningococcal disease, is the best way to protect everyone from spreading illnesses and overwhelming our medical system.
Practice Healthy Habits
Your teen’s habits impact their overall health, which determines the quality of their immune system. Encourage your teen to practice the following good health behaviors:
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Exercise and keep active.
- Eat a healthy diet, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Stay hydrated.
These good habits will keep their immune system in its best shape.
Know the Symptoms
Your teen should be aware of symptoms that require a visit to the school clinic or medical center. While many of us are hearing about possible symptoms from coronavirus, both the flu and meningitis can also be deadly, so please inform your teen of all the symptoms that are problematic. Make sure your student brings a thermometer with them to school. Advise your teen to seek medical treatment for the following symptoms:
- Fever above 100.5 degrees or fever that lasts more than 5 days
- Coughing and/or shortness of breath
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Significant body/muscle aches and/or severe headache
- Feeling too sick to drink
- Stiff neck with headache or sensitivity to light
- Rash that is pink, red or purple on arms, hands, feet, or legs
Any of these symptoms can be signs of a significant illness that needs medical attention.
Create a Quarantine “To Go” Bag
Finally, in the age of coronavirus, it is possible your teen will be asked to quarantine in a moment’s notice. You should pack them a small bag with essentials as a quarantine “to go” bag. The bag should include sample size toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, toothpaste and brush, and chapstick), pajamas, underwear and socks, comfy clothes, Tylenol and other medicines, thermometer, face mask, water bottle, towel and blanket, and extra phone charger.
Going to college is a significant stage in life that involves a lot of decision making. Let your teen know that the choices they make and the habits they cultivate will ultimately determine their overall health, both now and in the future. The suggested habits above will improve your teen’s chances of staying healthy.