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5 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick in College


Flu bug, what did we ever do to you? One minute, we're happily going about minding our own business, and then, BAM, the mini-epidemic hits and half the campus population is in bed "Netflixing" their sniffles away. With sneezes and headaches, all we can do is watch helplessly as friends and suitemates fall victim to the campus virus, vigorously sanitizing and hoping that the illness will spare us just this once. This is one trend we definitely want to avoid like the plague, but getting sick that one time of the year when everyone else does just seems inevitable. If taking tests with a ridiculously runny nose isn't your thing, you're in luck. Check out these five ways to prevent the dorm sniffles from hitting you!

1. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer

We’re not talking about the lightning-fast rinse under the water that people tend to do because they've got places to be; we mean truly washing your hands. When was the last time you took the time to sing "Happy Birthday" twice while you scrubbed your hands? Thought so. Washing your hands frequently and long enough is essential to keeping the germs away.

It is especially important if the flu is going around and you have a roommate or are living in close quarters with others who are sick. Pay special attention to items that you and all of your suitemates have to share every day, like the doorknob or the sink, and make sure to sanitize your hands like crazy after using them.

"If your roommate is sick, you have to be ESPECIALLY careful, and it may be worth asking if you can stay in another room until she’s better, since the cold is so contagious," says Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, executive vice president of clinical strategy and chief doctor at Sharecare, an online health and wellness engagement platform.

In addition, make sure you're actively reminding yourself to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you've just washed or sanitized them. Often, this is how germs are spread.

The age-old adage of washing your hands hasn't survived this long for nothing!

2. Stay hydrated

Coffee addicts, we're looking at you in particular. Your body needs water to fight infection, so drinking too much coffee, soda or juice can actually dehydrate you and weaken your body's sickness-fighting abilities.

"Drinking plenty of water can be helpful, especially if you are drinking alcohol or caffeine, which dehydrate the body," says Dr. Debra Greene, an expert in the field of energy medicine and mind-body integration. "Water helps all of your of your body's systems function better. It energizes your muscles, improves bowel function and balances your body's fluid levels."

In addition, staying hydrated keeps mucous membranes of the nose and throat soft, which prevents tiny cracks where viruses can enter from forming. Mucous membranes are thin layers of moist tissues that line body cavities and secrete mucus, which protects the respiratory tract from viruses, germs and bacteria. Hydrating the body also helps your natural drainage system carry encountered viruses down to the stomach to be flushed out.

You should drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Decaf green tea is a great way to sneak in your daily dose of water, and it even has immune-boosting antioxidants just for us hardworking college students.

3. Eat right

Your immune system is your savior during times of the campus-wide plague, and it's partially turned on or off by what you eat. Eating right can help you boost your immune system and combat any illnesses that might be floating around. This means eating less food that’s nutritionally empty and can compromise your immune system, like junk food.

"To boost your immune system, you'll want to eat foods that are nutritionally dense," Greene says. "Fresh veggies and berries have high antioxidant capacity compared to canned fruit and veggies, which are severely compromised."

According to Greene, there are a number of other healthy food options you can eat to keep yourself from getting the dorm sniffles:

  • Whey protein, which comes from milk and is a by-product of cheese-making, supports the body's natural detoxification processes.
  • Fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, olives and yogurt provide friendly bacteria that help the gut's immune system.
  • Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which converts to monolaurin in your body, the component found in breast milk that strengthens a baby's immune system.
  • Fresh garlic is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal.
  • The superfood chlorella, which is a type of algae that grows in fresh water, binds to toxins and carries them out of your system.

4. Get plenty of rest

Have you ever noticed that your immune system always stops working at the worst times? And by worst times, we mean I'm-about-to-take-midterms-but-let-me-get-sick-first times. Since sleeping and the immune system are connected, it's no wonder that students who stay up all night studying for exams seem more susceptible to the dorm sniffles.

"Studies show that people who don't get enough sleep or don't get quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold," Greene says. "The body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases."

So while those notes definitely won't study themselves and that weekend party won't happen by itself, staying up late makes it easier for you to get sick, which makes it harder for you to study or have fun in the first place.

"Getting back to the basics is the best prevention," Dr. Gillespie says. "If you’re tired, your immune system can be worn down, too, making you more likely to get sick."

So, if a bug is going around on campus, it's not a bad idea to call it an early night, stick in your earplugs and catch some zzzs so you can aim for those As without a cold to worry about.

5. Don't share

Sharing is caring, unless there's a plague going around campus. Sharing food is cute and all, but spreading germs definitely isn't. It's important to remember to not share towels, eating utensils, cups or other things that can carry viruses, as well as to not drink or eat food or beverages other people have already touched.

This also applies to things shared by the public, like cafeteria utensils. Dr. Gillespie suggests using a napkin to grab the tongs at your dorm buffet or salad bar to prevent getting sick.

"Everyone is touching them, and then touching their mouth and eating — SO easy to spread germs!" Dr. Gillespie says. "So, either use a napkin to hold the tongs, or use a hand sanitizer just before you eat to prevent catching any germs."

If you have a roommate, this will probably be even more difficult because sharing your stuff with each other is pretty inevitable. But if there's a flu bug going around, avoid touching and using the same objects. Unfortunately, that might mean temporarily separating your desks, pens and other things you might normally share, because they all can carry the cold virus.

Sanitize often and be considerate, and you'll be spreading the love, not the germs.

Don't let college life wreak havoc on your immune system and make you susceptible to even the most minor pathogens. Even though you live in close quarters with lots of other people and interact with them on a daily basis, you can take preventative measures now so you don't end up huddled in bed watching reruns of old TV episodes again!

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