College First Aid Kit

Happy Fall 2015! I disappeared for the summer, as I finished writing the second edition of my first book (Seductive Delusions), as well as a series of medical articles for Livestrong.org. Since all of my patients are current college students, I thought I would share a series of posts about common health issues for otherwise healthy young adults. Pictured above is my favorite personalized gift for graduating high school seniors- a first aid kit, complete with my instructions for “when and how to use what” to feel better.

Let’s start with one very basic item that is RARELY found in dorm rooms: a THERMOMETER!

Knowing whether or not you have a true FEVER (temperature >100.4*) is a very helpful piece of information, especially when you are calling in to a nurse hotline to get advice about your symptoms.
Allergies, for example, frequently cause sore throat, headache, and drainage, but do not elevate your temperature to a true fever level, but rather typically cause a slightly elevated temperature to 99*. Viral infections often will cause a SUBnormal temperature of around 98* (especially after the first day), even though you feel “feverish” or chilled.

Not everyone “lives” at 98.6*, by the way. Check your temperature randomly a few times on different days/weeks when you feel perfectly fine, so you know what is YOUR normal. This is partly why we check temperatures on everyone who comes in to the doctor’s office, at every visit- even when you are not sick (but there for a sprained ankle, blood pressure medication, insomnia, whatever.)

A few side notes: if you are using an oral thermometer, be sure to wait a half hour after eating, drinking (or, heaven-forbid, smoking), because these activities will falsely elevate or lower the temperature measured in your mouth. Ear thermometers measure about a half degree Fahrenheit higher than oral thermometers. Finally, body temperature fluctuates roughly 1*F throughout the day, so check your baseline temperatures at different times. The goal is to find out your average normal temperature. Obviously, if your usual temperature is 97. 4*, a temperature of 100* really is a FEVER for you.

Which type of thermometer is the best?

For a college student, I recommend an inexpensive digital thermometer…maybe two, because the batteries wear out. The more expensive ear and temporal thermometers require more precision and effort to be accurate (removing ear wax, for example). Digital oral thermometers across the board seem to be fairly reliable. Old fashioned glass thermometers are no longer recommended, because of the risk of breaking and then exposure to mercury.

BOTTOM LINE: A college student’s first aid kit should start with a thermometer, and encourage your son or daughter to learn their baseline temperature, AND to check their temperature before they call their university’s health services advice line.

PS. Virtually every university now has a 24 advice line staffed by an actual, live human being- be sure your college student has that number programmed in to their smart phone!

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