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Published on August 19, 2013

Making the adjustment to college life

Palos Medical Group’s Dr. Kudirka offers tips for a safe and healthy first on campus

Dr. Kudirka’s office is located in the Palos Primary Care Center South in Orland Park.
On the mend

Create a first-aid kit so your child is equipped with basic supplies to treat minor illness and injury while away at college. Items to include are:

  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic ointment and antiseptic wipes
  • Pain relievers
  • Cold and allergy medications
  • Digital thermometer
  • Chemical cold packs to reduce swelling and cool burns
  • Hydrogen peroxide to disinfect wounds
  • Calamine lotion for insect bites and poison ivy
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Antacids
  • Anti-diarrhea medications 

Since cramped living quarters and community showers are the norm in most campus dormitories, college students often are exposed to more germs than normal and frequently get sick.

“Maintaining good hygiene, particularly regular hand washing with soap and water is the mainstay for disease prevention,” says Andrius Kudirka, M.D., a board-certified family practice physician with Palos Medical Group in Orland Park. “Regular exercise, adequate sleep and a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables will help build the immune system, and put students in a better position to fight off infection.”

And don’t forget about the flu. “The influenza shot is also highly recommended and can be done at student health once available,” says Dr. Kudirka. “Influenza sweeps through colleges rapidly and a bad case of flu could sideline a student for several weeks.”

That said, health insurance is a must. Parents should be sure their child understands the type of coverage they have, including the cost of the co-pay (if there is one), and has a copy of the insurance card, which should be carried at all times. Also, ask if the school’s health center offers 24-hour medical care. If not, find out how to access emergency care through the local hospital or an urgent care clinic.

Dr. Kudirka suggests making sure students have their medication available, especially if there is a chronic condition like asthma, severe allergies or diabetes. He recommends getting prescription refills at a pharmacy near college. “I often get calls from students who forgot their inhaler or allergy meds at home, it can be bad for your health and a hassle to get meds at the last minute. Take care of everything ahead of time so you have meds when you need them.”

Stress and social pressures

In The Healthy Student: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Teens for the College Years, Lawrence Neinstein, M.D., an adolescent health specialist at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, encourages parents to talk with their children about sex, alcohol and drugs and to not stop talking, even if their children tune them out.

“While you will not be the only influence in your adolescent’s life, you can be the best influence,” says Dr. Neinstein.

It’s no surprise alcohol and drug use is prevalent in college, which is why it’s important to keep an open line of communication. Students should feel safe asking their parents for advice.

“Students should be aware that binge drinking (a rite of passage for many college students) puts them at increased risk of injury, assault and alcohol poisoning,” says Dr. Kudirka, who pleads with students to not drink and drive. “Consider a buddy system. Look out for your friends, don’t let them keep drinking if they are getting drunk and make sure they get home safe.”

Living away from home tends to be the toughest adjustment for college freshmen. The stress of heavy course loads, hectic schedules, making new friends, dealing with roommates and navigating the social scene can take its toll, both mentally and physically.

Feeling homesick is normal during the first semester.

“First of all, realize everybody goes through the same thing, and accept that it will take some time to get settled,” says Dr. Kudirka. “Joining clubs, sports teams or fraternities/sororities are great ways to meet people, but stay true to your core values.”

If drinking or drugs interfere with grades and class attendance, Dr. Kudirka recommends getting help through student health.

At times, sadness can turn into depression, which can interfere with a student’s ability to function, and affect relationships with friends and family. Most colleges offer a variety of resources to help. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that students reach out not only to friends but to professors, resident advisors and counselors.

Signs of depression
  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, irritability or boredom
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Noticeable changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from family, friends and social activity
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering, and an inability to complete schoolwork
  • Physical symptoms including headaches, stomachaches or pain that doesn’t respond to treatment
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide

Parents must keep the lines of communication open with their children and let them know they are there for them, whether it’s by phone, text or staying in touch through Facebook. “Children of all ages should feel safe asking their parents for advice,” says Dr. Kudirka.

Dr. Kudirka’s approach to medicine is one of communication and prevention. “I’m a big proponent of prevention,” he says. "And the best way to encourage prevention is through open communication." His office is located in the Palos Primary Care Center South, 15300 West Avenue, Suite 221, Orland Park. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Palos Medical Group at 708-590-5300.