How to Outsmart Germs This Autumn

The first day of classes is exciting. There are brand new lecture halls and interesting new subjects to explore. Fellow students will be both competitors and saviors to each other as the quarter unfolds and homework compiles. Along with this, though, those classmates will also bring their germs to class. Halfway through the first lecture, the dreaded sound of that first cough signals the start of a season of sniffles, coughs, and sore throats. 


Getting sick in college is inevitable. The only part that can be even slightly controlled is the severity of the impending malady. This can only happen through understanding common ways illnesses are spread and what to do about it. 


There are many reasons people fall ill in autumn, but the few mentioned in this article are the easiest to prevent.


Firstly, as every college student has experienced, the second the temperature outside decreases in the slightest, the lecture halls and classrooms are flooded with heat. The heaters are probably exhausted. Boiling a classroom does not discourage diseases like the common cold from flourishing. In fact, it does the opposite. 


Extreme temperature changes like this can dry out the body’s first lines of defense. Mucus looks gross but serves the important purpose of trapping microbes and sending them straight to the stomach for an acidic demise. This can be reconciled by covering your nose, mouth, and ears when outside to minimize the temperature shock of entering a heated indoor space, and to prevent additional freezing from the cold outside.  It doesn’t have to be on Randy’s level from “A Christmas Story”, but there is a reason he was bundled up to where he couldn’t put his arms down. This method can also prevent frostbite of facial extremities in the event of snow or extreme cold, as Seattle has gotten a little more wintery in recent years. 


Another cold catalyst is sleep deprivation. Everyone recommends getting more sleep, but no one fully explains why. Mayo Clinic wrote that lack of sleep reduces protective cytokines and antibodies needed to fight infection. It can also make your period of recovery longer. 


It can be tempting to party or study through sickness– working hard is and should be rewarded. However, the whole “work hard, play hard” mantra will not make an illness go away faster. This is college. There will always be another party or opportunity to go out. Close quarters with people who may or may not be sick and missing out on sleep are not a recipe for good health. 


As far as studying goes, an all-nighter or most-of-the-nighter will just make you feel worse and perform worse cognitively the next day. Instead, consider studying for a few hours the night before, sleeping for more than five hours, and waking up a little earlier to review the next day. The result? Higher levels of protective cytokines and antibodies, less of that exhausting sick feeling, and increased knowledge, which will make any test more tolerable. 


The final and perhaps best chance at evading illness altogether is cleanliness. Hand washing and showering regularly are crucial for a healthy body. Water and soap alleviate the skin from creeping germs and effectively stop the transfer of germs from one body part to another. Adjusting clumpy mascara after touching a door handle could lead to pink eye and so forth. Declining mental health can sometimes lead to less cleanliness, so be mindful that mental health is tied to physical health.


It is easy to get caught up in the demands and pace of college, but part of maturing is knowing when to take a step back and practice self care. To be quite honest, this advice will probably last through midterms before everyone stops caring and falls dreadfully ill, to recover just in time for finals. But, as every student knows, that’s all that matters.