4 Ways Your Body May Change in College

College comes with a boatload of new stress, caused by everything from an increased workload to a decrease in sleep. Yet while seemingly endless resources warn incoming collegiettes about the academic and social changes that they should expect to experience post move-in day, far fewer guidelines caution collegiettes about potential physical transformations.

Understanding your body is important, which is why we're here to highlight possible bodily reactions you may experience after an extended stay on campus. So before you stress about any unexplained zits, headaches or extra pounds, read up—we've lined up the causes of some common college body changes with solutions on how to deal.

1. Allergies

Causes


For many collegiettes, college means moving to a whole new city or town. Accordingly, you'll probably be experiencing some environmental changes, even if you haven't moved far from home.

Many college campuses are certified arboretums with tons of greenery, exposing you to a plethora of allergen-producing trees. And even if your campus isn't an arboretum, it's likely that the campus landscaping will bring your body in close proximity to plants that you may have never encountered before. These new allergy-inducing outdoor conditions can impact your health in a variety of ways, from sneezing and coughing to headaches and mental fuzziness. However, Dr. Paul S. Lindner, an allergy and immunology specialist, warns that many symptoms "are also found with viral respiratory tract infections," which might initially confuse you. So before you opt for antibiotics to treat  prolonged common-cold symptoms, consider popping a daily over-the-counter allergy pill like Zyrtec ($27.99, Walgreens)—your body may just be allergic to whatever regional seasonal allergens are floating in the air.

College also happens to be a prime breeding ground for indoor allergens. Depending on the quality of campus building maintenance, your dormitory bathrooms or classrooms may have hidden mold, and carpeted buildings can be especially prone to dust build-up and dust mite activity—all of which many people are allergic to. Even worse, your personal room may be the culprit of new allergies. Dr. Lindner reminds us that "the typical college dorm room tends to be dusty as most students do not dust or vacuum their rooms. Adding carpeting increases the amount of dust in the room as well. Mold may be present, especially in basement dorm rooms." Moreover, outdoor allergens can also become indoor problems, but luckily, only temporarily. "Pollen is not usually an issue for most of the school year except in the spring when the weather is nice and windows are opened, allowing tree pollen to get into dorm rooms," notes Dr. Lindner.

A third form of allergies may arise from new college diets. "One phenomenon which is also seen in college is increased food allergies," says Dr. Lindner. "The college student is often introduced to new foods in the cafeteria or from friends and so new food allergies may be discovered. Signs of a food allergy may be hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, swelling of the mouth, tongue, throat, itchy throat and eyes, nausea and vomiting within a few hours after eating."

And finally, unknown allergies may be contributing to generally worsened health. "If allergies get really severe, patients may develop asthma which can cause wheezing and shortness of breath," warns Dr. Lindner, adding that "allergic and asthmatic individuals tend to get more infections of greater severity than the average person." Therefore, it's super important to identify allergies, especially since "if going to the student health center [students] need to let the physician know that they have allergies and/or asthma so they can receive the proper treatment."

Cures


Thankfully, allergies are completely common and typically an easy fix. In fact, lesser-known allergy solutions may arise from simple habit changes. According to Today.com, stress, alcohol consumption and exposure to smoke (each being very common in college) can all exacerbate allergies. So if your once-a-day allergy medication isn't doing it, you might need to cut back on stressors and alcohol, while avoiding locations where smokers hangout.

That being said, a trip to an allergist is always the best bet for getting answers fast, and especially if your allergy symptoms persist or worsen despite trying other remedies. After all, it takes a professional to narrow down one cause out of what feels like a bazillion potential options, and no collegiette has time to figure pesky symptoms out on their own! Accordingly, we had Dr. Lindner dish out some expert advice to get you started.

During prime sniffle seasons, common sense says to avoid staying outdoors for extended periods of time, and to wash your clothes often to remove allergen residue that you may be bringing into your room. There's more to it than that, though. Dr. Lindner notes that when it comes to "pollen sufferers, it is best to have an air conditioner rather than have open windows." Okay, we know what you're thinking: that's great and all, but what about the students who aren't lucky enough to have dormitory air conditioning? "I have written many letters to schools to allow room air conditioners for students that are allergic," assures Lindner, meaning 1) he's an angel, and 2) your allergist can probably do so as well!

As for indoor allergies, Dr. Lindner recommends "that students have access to a vacuum cleaner and vacuum and dust every week and try to keep the room clean.  I have seen enormous dust balls under students’ beds especially at the end of the semester" (too real). On top of that, "Carpeting should be limited, and if necessary, cleaned regularly," while "bedding should not be made of down or feathers, as dust mites like to live in these fabrics." But if you're really attached to your favorite feather pillow, fear not.  "Dust mite protective casings are available which can help," he says, and "HEPA air filters can decrease the amount of dust in the air of a dorm room."

When it comes to more severe reactions, like allergy-induced asthma, Dr. Lindner instructs patients to "go to the student health center and be seen immediately" rather than "try their own or their friends’ remedies [or] try to wait it out." As for students afflicted with food allergies, it's best to "always carry Benadryl and an EpiPen."

Finally, it might be time to consider a more permanent fix, such as allergy shots. "As many students are on allergy shots for allergies, they need to continue them at college.  If allergy shots are skipped for more than a month, allergy symptoms can return and dose adjustments need to be made.  A trip to the infirmary to continue regular allergy shots is worthwhile to keep allergies at bay," advises Dr. Linder.

2. Weight Gain

Causes


We've all heard rumors of the Freshman 15, but what's really the deal?

According to Renee Pabst, Director of Health Education at Vassar College, weight gain in college is completely normal, although the specific amount may vary. "For each [woman] it is different and dependent on many factors. During puberty, a [woman] may gain 15 or more pounds in a year when puberty starts—this is normal and necessary for proper growth and development," she says.  But wait, didn't puberty end back in high school? Quite the contrary! According to Pabst, a young woman "can still gain some of this puberty weight in her late teenage years—[a.k.a. the] first few years of college."

Keeping that in mind, if you've packed on a few pounds in college, don't fret! Pabst explains that mean (read: normal) adolescent weight gain is actually a whopping 38 pounds, and is mostly due to the fact that the female body is designed to "make more fat to allow for fuller thighs, stomach and breasts, and wider hips" during this period. Who knew?

Sydney, a senior at the University of Florida, can verify. "I was stick skinny in high school and then started to get curves and it totally freaked me out at first," she says. "I would definitely stress that gaining weight is totally normal, and it's not always due to bad eating habits like the 'Freshman 15.' My eating habits didn't really change in college, but I still gained weight just from getting older and growing into my body. It happens!"

Of course, delayed puberty may not be the only cause for college weight changes. "For some it is adjusting to a new diet at college and maybe not getting as much exercise," says Pabst. Additionally, certain medications you begin in college can contribute. "Birth control and antidepressants for some people may increase weight, but we usually see this [at] about 5-8 lbs." She also notes one last potential cause that especially resonates with college culture: "excessive drinking can lead to a 5-10 lb weight gain during college."

Cures


Weight gain may take you by surprise, but that doesn't mean you need to lose, and especially if said weight gain is part of your body's natural progression into adulthood.

That's why Pabst reminds us that "The first question to ask [is]—why do I need to lose weight?  What is the goal? Is the goal realistic or is it more psychological...?" As in, is health the motivator, or are social and relationship pressures? If the answer is the latter, reevaluating friendships and relationships (or your own self-perceptions) may be a better solution. Because if there's one thing we know, it's that body love should come from the inside—haters gonna hate!

However, if you truly are health-conscious and aiming to stay in shape, there are a few habit changes that may help. "To stay healthy in college is to go back to basics—balanced meals, exercise, and sleep," says Pabst. "Make sure you still are getting fruits, vegetables, and enough protein (even if you are vegan or vegetarian)." Secondly, 20-30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week is crucial. "This benefits your body in numerous ways—it reduces stress, increases your endorphins/feel good chemicals, and helps you sleep." Finally, on that note, "Get sleep!! Sleep is restorative and it also effects metabolism—so aim for 7-8 hours a night." And if those late-night study seshes get in the way? Pabst says "a 20 minute nap can also help you rejuvenate." Bonus tip: "ideal napping time is [between] 1-3 p.m."  A the nap hack and expert-approved nap validation? We're loving this health advice!

No matter what, know that a healthy lifestyle is far more important than any number on the scale. Brie, a Ryerson University sophomore, admits that she too noticed a weight gain in college. "It wasn't a huge gain, but it was enough to scare me at first. Then I realized it was totally normal. Between new stresses (such as school and friends) and just new eating habits (especially at the dining hall), I knew it was inevitable that the number on the scale would rise." Instead of getting down, Brie adopted admirable new health habits and body positivity instead. "This is my second year in school now and the number on the scale is still a little high for me, but I've learned to accept the number for what it is: a number. My appearance looks fine and I am not unhealthy, I just had a lifestyle change. This year I've found I've been cooking a lot more for myself instead of eating out, and I'm also walking to places more instead of relying on public transit."

Related: 10 Simple Tips for Staying Healthy in College

3. Skin Reactions

Causes


Are you from the hot and humid South heading up to a cold and windy campus in the Midwest? Do you happen to be switching coasts (or continents) for the upcoming semester? Are you moving from a hometown that boasts all four seasons to a college town with perpetually consistent temperatures? Whatever the case, there's a good chance these climate changes will affect your skin. 

Cold, dry air can wreak havoc on your skin's moisture, resulting in cracked, flaky skin. Even worse, windy conditions can be extremely harsh, making skin red and irritated, and irritated skin can lead to blemishes—yikes. Dry weather can also cause pre-existing eczema conditions to temporarily worsen, which is a total pain. Overall, "The college student with sensitive skin such as dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis, can notice an exacerbation of these genetic disorders when they go from a fairly humid climate to a dry climate," says board-certified, Beverly Hills based dermatologist Dr. Vicki Rapaport. "For instance an East Coaster coming to California [m]ay react to [the] very dry climate by getting eczema where they never had it before or may notice extremely dry skin or itchy skin when the Santa Ana [winds] blow. We see this often in our office [as] college kids coming in with 'rashes' which are simply classic dry winter skin rashes."

On the other hand, adapting to a warmer, humid climate than you're used to may exacerbate acne. Sweaty, oily skin gets clogged easily, causing pesky enlarged pores. Dr. Rapaport confirms that climate can cause zits, adding in the twist that sometimes "skin [even] responds to dry air by making more oil and thus breakouts can follow. "

However, weather isn't acne's only instigator. "Young women could have had perfect skin all throughout high school and all of a sudden start to break out," says Dr. Rapaport. "There are many reasons for this. One could be an increased amount of stress." Sydney confirms, noting that when she got to college, her "skin freaked out. I started getting really bad breakouts from hormones and stress. Since it wasn't something I could control (like diet or hygiene) I eventually had to go to a dermatologist and get medication." 

But what's a girl to do if her skin changes can't be chalked up to stress or climate? It turns out the culprit could be something way simpler that you've probably overlooked. "There's just so much going on in college that sometimes a good cleansing routine gets forgotten," says Dr. Rapaport. "And let's not forget about the nights that college kids go out and eat and drink way too much. This can cause breakouts as well." Also remember that residing on a city campus can expose you to toxin-filled and polluted air, which may nestle into your skin creating breakouts and overall irritation.

Finally, Dr. Lindner reminds us that skin reactions may be due to—you guessed it—allergies. "College is also a time to experiment with cosmetics, body lotions and other preparations. These products can cause a contact allergy which can lead to itchy, red, swollen skin in the area of contact."

Cures


A change in air quality prompts the simple solution of washing your face more often, and with dirt-and-toxin-extracting products (we love Biore's Charcoal Deep Pore Cleanser, $6.79 at Drugstore.com). But what's a girl to do about uncontrollable climate?

When dry-weather irritation takes hold, opt for creamier skincare products without extra-drying alcohol. Invest in heavy-duty moisturizers, specifically targeting sensitive areas like the hands, neck and face. Avoid taking long showers, and keep the water temperature on the cooler side—no sense in drying your skin out even further! Purchasing a humidifier for your dorm room and leaving your indoor heat on the lower side (if you have control over indoor temps) can all make the temperature changes less extreme. It's also vital to keep hydratedthe more natural moisture you give your skin, the better.

When humidity strikes, use oil-free products and ultra-cleansing skincare options—basically, the opposite of anything for dry weather! Grab some oil-blotters as well—Tarte's Not So Slick Oil-Absorbing Blotting Papers soak up sweat and shine while simultaneously soothing any inflammation ($10, tartecosmetics.com).

Like Pabst, Dr. Rapaport also reminds us that "It's important not to forget the basics in college. Brushing your teeth and washing your face are musts." Of course, quick fixes aren't optimal when you're facing an unexplained new skin condition. Be it an extra-bad eczema flare-up or something entirely foreign to you, it's absolutely best to visit your local dermatologist to determine the cause. There's a plethora of irritants out there, and only you and your doctor will truly be able to determine what's provoking your college-related skin problems. "There's always the student health center," says Dr. Rapaport. "The doctors there can easily diagnose your issues and give you the right recommendations and sometimes medications to quickly clear you up."

As for those cruel cosmetic allergy pop-ups that Dr. Lindner mentioned? "Hypoallergenic products are available, however if reactions continue, testing for contact chemicals is available," says Dr. Lindner. "The testing technique is called the patch test where many chemicals such as parabens, latex, nickel and formaldehyde can be looked at to determine which cosmetics are safe for [you to] use."

4. Gynecological Problems 

Causes


If you've felt inexplicable down-there irritation once in college, you're not alone! Many collegiettes experience some strange vaginal or urinary symptoms once in school, so it's important not to jump to conclusions or totally freak out.

According to Anne Daderria, FNP and staff member at Vassar College Women's Health Service, UTIs and yeast infections may be the (ultra-common) cause of your woes. But if you've never had a UTI or yeast infection before or if you've been experiencing them far more frequently than in high school, you may be wondering why they've started or increased in college. 

"The incidence of Candidal vaginal [a.k.a. yeast] infections can increase with the use of hormonal contraception, diabetes, antibiotics, sexual activity (especially if multiple partners), exercise, immune system changes (which may occur with poor diet, lack of rest), and stress," says Daderria. And since practically all of these causes are directly related to college life, it's obvious why yeast infections may arise on campus! As for UTIs, "incidence increases with sexual activity and immune system changes." 

That being said, yeast infections and UTIs aren't the only possible causes for symptoms such as vaginal itch, frequent urination, burning sensations or strange discharge or urine. The team at the Vassar College Women's Health Service also notes that bacterial vaginosis—the most common vaginal bacterial infection—is often seen in college-aged students. Like UTIs and yeast infections, BV is due to bacterial imbalance, which can be caused by having sex with new or multiple partners. 

Worst case-scenario, you may be experiencing an STI or STD. For example, frequent UTI symptoms might actually point to an underlying STI. But don't panic or self-diagnose! The Vassar Women's Health Service team notes that nearly all college campuses offer some sort of screening, and many can be done on your own in the privacy of your dorm room. All in all, it's super important to get checked before self-treating, as a professional analysis will save you time and unnecessary stress in the long run.

Finally, infections aren't the only "down-there" issue to be wary of. "After entering college, I noticed that my period symptoms bec[a]me a lot more severe," says Indiana University sophomore Allison*. She chalks the change up to two potential causes: "My body was used to exercising every day in high school because I did sports year-round, but once I got to college I wasn't working out as much. I noticed that my cramps, PMS, acne, headaches, etc. all become a lot more severe throughout the course of my cycle. I also started taking the pill in college...I definitely noticed that that made my symptoms a lot more severe as well."

Cures


When it comes to common issues like UTIs and yeast infections, treatment is relatively simple. According to Daderria, "There are general measures to help reduce the incidence of these infections," but keep in mind that "they have mixed results." Apparently, "urinating after intercourse has limited usefulness to prevent [a] UTI," but "cranberry juice or other supplements can alter the PH of the urine and help reduce incidence."

But what happens if you're experiencing ridiculously frequent UTI symptoms, despite trying self- or over-the-counter treatments? "If there are more than two UTIs in six months or three in a year, or if uncommon bacteria cause[d] the infections, investigation for a urinary tract problem might be necessary. If negative, post-coital antibiotics can be prescribed," which typically require taking "a small dose of antibiotic [within] 24 hours of intercourse," and will hopefully stop symptoms. Of course, only a doctor will help you reach these latter steps, so we re-emphasize the importance of making an appointment to get checked out!

In terms of yeast infections, "measures to reduce candidiasis include changing birth control pills, healthier sleep and diet, reducing unnecessary antibiotic use and maintaining good genital hygiene," says Daderria. And with abnormal frequency, a doctor's visit is again highly recommended. But what should you expect to hear at your appointment? "If infections are frequent, (i.e. more than 2-3 in six months) there may be an investigation to determine if there is a medical reason such as anemia, diabetes or immune dysfunction. If testing is negative, small or brief doses of anti-fungal medication can be given for prevention."

BV can be diagnosed with a vaginal fluid lab test and is treated with antibiotics, but it's important to note that it can often reoccur after treatment. If you're diagnosed, stay in touch with your gynecologist to keep tabs, since untreated BV may be linked to early pregnancies and increased risk of STDs.  
 
If menstrual pain is your main problem and you're on birth control, try switching up your pill or method. Also talk to your gynecologist about lifestyle changes that might alleviate symptoms. 
 

Chances are, college will come with more than a few changes, and physical transformations aren't excluded. The good news is, more often than not, your seemingly random body reactions can actually be caused by something totally common, so there's no need to stress! As long as you're living the healthiest lifestyle you can and paying attention to any symptoms that arise, you'll make it through college's common body changes unscathed. Just be sure to consult a doctor if things get rough, and don't be afraid to use resources on campus to supplement self-treatments. Because a healthy you is a happy you, and there's nothing worse than being left in the dark. 

*Name has been changed