It's scary being sick when you're a college kid far from home. And the only thing scarier is being the parent of a sick college kid far from home! You can't send piping hot chicken soup and TLC through the campus mail room, but you can prepare your child with the basics to take care of himself with this simple 3-step approach.
- The first day of an illness, students usually can take care of themselves. They should treat fevers with Tylenol, says Mount Sinai's Dr. Joel Forman. Drink liquids, get plenty of rest, and see how it goes for the day. Watch for signs of dehydration and any troubling symptoms – a stiff neck, for example, or severe headache. Ever since colleges began requiring - or at least very strongly urging - students to get the meningococcal vaccine, cases of meningitis have been rare on college campuses - but the disease can be fast moving and lethal. For coughs? Skip the over-the-counter cough syrup. “I’m a honey, lemon and tea person,” says Forman - and research backs him up on the cough-suppressing benefits of honey and warm liquids.
- If the fever does not come down, diarrhea and/or vomiting persist for more than six hours, or there are other, troubling symptoms, says Forman, “Err on the side of caution, and contact student health services, at least by phone.” That goes for injuries too. If swelling does not subside or a cut or abrasion appears red, feels tender or oozes pus, your child needs to call the health center. Nurse practitioners usually staff the health center triage lines. They’ll ask questions, give advice and determine if your child needs to be seen, either at the health center or the emergency room.
- If your child is very ill or in a lot of pain, make sure he seeks help from a friend, roommate or dorm resident assistant in getting to the health center or emergency room. Campus security will provide transport if necessary. A friend doesn’t just provide moral support and physical assistance, says Forman, he can also help keep track of the doctor’s instructions and information. And, that friend can call you and keep you apprised of developments.