As college students, being in close contact with individuals is not always an option. Whether sleeping a few feet away from a roommate (or two or three), sharing restrooms, showers, desks and dining spaces, you interact with a number of people and germs on a day-to-day basis. The common cold, seasonal flu virus and other illnesses are unfortunately part of living on a college campus. As college students, it is important to understand ways to protect yourself from illness.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if your symptoms are cold or flu-related. Viruses cause both colds and flu, so their symptoms are similar. So, is it the flu, or a common cold?
Signs & Symptoms Flu Cold
Symptom onset Sudden Gradual
Fever Typical Rare
Aches Typical Slight
Chills Fairly Common Uncommon
Fatigue, weakness Typical Sometimes
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common
Chest discomfort, cough Common Mild to moderate
Headache Common Rare
If your cold symptoms last longer than 10 – 14 days and get worse or don’t improve, you should see a healthcare provider. The flu can have severe complications, so it’s good to know when to see a doctor.
If you need advice on over-the-counter medication to take, talk to a pharmacist at TCU Health Center. You can also lower your chances of contracting the flu by getting a flu vaccine.
Benefits of the Flu Vaccination
- Can keep you from catching the flu
- May make your illness milder if you do get sick
- The flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.
- Protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions
Tips to stay healthy
With communal living and hundreds of other students sharing classroom space, colds and viruses can spread quickly on a college campus. These tips can help you protect yourself from getting sick:
- Wash your hands. Studies have shown that simple hand washing can help prevent a large number of illnesses. So wash your hands, especially any time you’ll be touching your nose, mouth or eyes or if you’ve been around others who are sick.
- Avoid sharing beverages. Germs are easily spread through the sharing of drinks, so get your own and avoid sharing with friends.
- Stay home when you are sick. Don’t force yourself to go to class when you’re not feeling well. It will only make you feel worse and infect other students. Email your professors that you’re ill and stay home and rest.
- Get to the doctor. If you have symptoms that aren’t showing any signs of clearing up within a few days, you may need to take a trip to the campus clinic or your doctor. Simple illnesses can mutate into much more serious ones if left alone, so make sure to seek help if you aren’t feeling any better.
- Drink lots of fluids. Staying hydrated is crucial for your body to stay healthy and function the best it possibly can.
- Get a flu shot. Vaccines like the flu shot are one of the most effective steps you can take to avoid viruses. Many colleges offer these for reduced prices so students can get vaccinated for little out-of-pocket expense.
- Wear flip flops in communal shower. Dorm or gym bathrooms are generally cleaned daily, but can become dirty quickly with so many people sharing them. Always make sure to wear sandals in the shower to avoid getting viruses and bacteria that can cause warts and athlete’s foot.
- Avoid ill friends. If your friend is sick, try to avoid spending too much time around them. While bringing soup or medications won’t hurt, try to minimize physical contact with ill friends and their stuff to avoid catching their illness.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Try to avoid touching these areas, especially if you have not recently washed your hands. The membranes in these areas make it easy for bacteria and viruses to enter your body.
- Keep immunizations up to date. While most students will have been immunized as a child, some shots may need to be updated when you enter college. Make sure yours are up to date to keep you from contracting a serious illness.
Is it a cold, or is it allergies?
Sometimes people confuse cold symptoms with allergies. Seasonal allergies are caused by allergens in the air and are generally not preventable, however, over-the-counter medications and avoiding the allergen can help relieve your symptoms. With seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, staying inside an air-conditioned environment can help.
It’s important to know if the symptoms you’re experiencing result from a cold or allergies so that you can be treated in the best way.
|How long it lasts||3-14 days||Days to months -- as long as you're in contact with the allergy trigger and a short time after|
|When it happens||Most often in the winter, but possible at any time||Any time of the year -- although the appearance of some allergy triggers is seasonal|
|When it starts||Symptoms take a few days to appear after infection with the virus||Symptoms can begin immediately after contact with allergy triggers|
|Itchy, watery eyes||Rarely||Often|
|Runny or stuffy nose||Often||Often|
Source: The CDC