When you're living at home and you get the flu, the treatment is usually simple: plenty of Mom and Pop. They're the ones who supply the aspirin, chicken soup and, most important, TLC. But dealing with illness gets more complicated when you go off to college and, all of a sudden, you have to take your own temperature, administer your own medicine and decide for yourself what's OK to eat.
Over the next few weeks, thousands of teen-agers will become college freshmen, far from home. And while they're coping with making new friends and getting adjusted to classes, many also will face the challenge of caring for their own health for the first time.
"Parents tend to take care of all their kids' health needs when they're growing up," said Jeannine Reed, a nurse practitioner and director of the Goucher College Student Health Services. "Then when these kids go to college, they don't have a clue what to do when they get sick."
Here are some pointers for new students, provided by medical experts accustomed to students' health concerns:
* Bring your health insurance information and a first aid kit to college. The first aid kit should contain band-aids, an antiseptic solution, a pain and fever reducing agent such as Tylenol, a cold preparation, a heating pad, an Ace bandage and a thermometer. If you have allergies, bring an antihistamine.
* Once you're at school, establish healthy habits to help ward off illness. Set up a schedule where you're exercising at least three times a week and getting sufficient sleep.
"Students don't understand that when they stay up night after night cramming, they're harming their bodies," said Marilyn Gall, a family nurse practitioner who is the nursing administrator for the Johns Hopkins University Student Health Clinic. "Your body will only allow you to go so far with sleep deprivation before you begin to feel the effects."
Along the same lines, try to eat three good meals a day. Getting your daily requirements of vegetables, fruits, dairy, protein and carbohydrates will greatly improve your chances of staying healthy. Snack on cereal or dried fruit instead of candy.
* Be careful about your sexual contacts. To reduce the likelihood of contracting such incurable diseases as AIDS, herpes genital infection or genital wart virus, question your partners about their sexual history and their experience with sexually transmitted diseases. Always use a condom when you have sex.
* Be responsible about your drinking. Instead of having 10 beers at a party, have one or two. Don't mix drinking and driving. And avoid any experimentation with drugs.
* Don't drink from someone else's cup or use their fork. Infectious mononucleosis, a viral infection that afflicts approximately 12 percent of college students every year, is almost always transmitted through saliva. By not sharing utensils with others, you'll reduce the probability of getting it.
* If you become sick or injured, contact the student health clinic. If you have the flu, rest and drink plenty of clear fluids like apple juice and ginger ale. Take your temperature frequently to monitor the illness. You also may want to take a pain and fever reducing agent such as Tylenol to relieve aches.
* Be aware of common mental and emotional disorders that afflict many college students, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, depression and drug and alcohol dependency. If you suspect that any of these is becoming a problem, contact a counselor at your school or any other health professional you feel comfortable with.
* To prevent stress from becoming a problem, set aside 15 or 20 minutes each day for some kind of relaxation, whether it's reading a novel, watching television or taking a walk, Ms. Gall recommends.