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6 Little-Known Health Conditions You Should Be Familiar With in College

As collegiettes, we’ve all been warned about unhealthy behavior: If we kiss too many boys, we’ll get mono. If we sleep with too many boys, we’ll get STIs. And then there’s our grandmother’s favorite — if we go out in the cold weather with a wet head, we’ll get pneumonia.

Well, grandma, hate to break it to you, but you actually don’t get pneumonia from going out with wet hair. It’s actually caused by an infection, and infections are spread from person to person — regardless of the weather.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only health problems affecting girls our age. In fact, there are many other health problems that we may not be familiar with, but are extremely common on college campuses.

1. Tonsillitis 

What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by either a virus or bacteria, Dr. Vivian Lorenzo, interim assistant director of the Ithaca College health center, explained.

Her Campus contributing writer Emma is here to clarify there’s nothing fun about tonsillitis; it is, in her words, “the worst!”
“I couldn’t speak or swallow, let alone function,” she said. “My throat was in excruciating pain, and I had a very high fever.”


  • Sore threat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Pus on the tonsils
  • Fever

You need a doctor to examine your tonsils to officially diagnose tonsillitis. Your doctor will look for red and swollen tonsils with sores or spots, the most important sign of tonsillitis. A doctor may also administer a throat culture, which can show whether your tonsillitis was caused by the streptococcus bacteria.

Treatment and Prevention
Unlike every cartoon and children’s show we’ve seen, the treatment for tonsillitis isn’t always surgery (followed by ice cream). If a virus causes the tonsillitis, you have to wait for it to go away on its own while using tea and over-the-counter painkillers to manage the pain and fever. However, if bacteria cause the tonsillitis, an antibiotic will be prescribed to treat it.
Tonsillectomy surgery is only required when there are serious problems with the tonsils or when tonsillitis is reoccurring frequently.
To prevent yourself from getting tonsillitis, make sure you avoid close contact with people who are sick, wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer. 

2. Ovarian Cysts

What is an Ovarian Cyst?

Ovarian cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs that grow on a woman’s ovary. The reason behind these cysts varies depending on the type of cyst, but most cysts are benign and develop normally without a specific or problematic cause. The most common way for an ovarian cyst to form, however, is when the remains of an egg follicle doesn’t dissolve from the ovary (which is part of the normal menstrual cycle) and instead fills with fluid.

I had my first cyst on my ovary when I was 16 years old; I felt sudden, sharp pain on my side that wasn’t made better by anything (I tried Tylenol, ginger ale and a heating pad). Eventually, I was nauseous and threw up constantly, but that didn’t subside the sharp pain. 


  • Sharp abdomen pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular periods

To officially diagnose an ovarian cyst, doctors will use an ultrasound to get a better view of the ovaries.

Treatment and Prevention
There are several treatments for ovarian cysts, depending on the type of cyst it is. A follicular (functional) cyst can hemorrhage and ultimately resolve itself naturally without any medical intervention. Other cysts require laparoscopic surgery to be removed if the cyst doesn’t resolve on its own.

Functional ovarian cysts cannot be prevented if you are ovulating, therefore going on birth control pills can help regulate ovulation.

3. Iron-Deficiency Anemia 

What is Iron Deficiency Anemia? 
Anemia is the name of the condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Iron is important in the creation of red blood cells.

Dr. Lorenzo explained that anemia in women is usually caused by one of two things. “[Anemia] is usually related to heavy blood loss during menses with inadequate iron in the diet,” she said.

Catherine, a Her Campus contributing blogger probably wasn’t familiar with iron-deficiency anemia until she was diagnosed with it her senior year of high school. “I was a senior in high school and had run cross-country and track since freshman year,” Catherine said. “All of a sudden, my times were getting slower by more than a minute. I felt out of breath even walking up a flight of stairs and got dizzy whenever I stood up too suddenly. My coach suggested I see a doctor, and he ordered a blood test.” 


  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches

Iron-deficiency anemia is diagnosed by a blood test that can then tell your doctor the levels of iron in your blood. Specifically, will look for red blood cell size and color, hematocrit (the percent of your blood made up by red blood cells), hemoglobin levels and the level of the protein ferritin.

Treatment and Prevention 
“Eating a diet rich in iron or taking an iron supplement can help prevent this,” Dr. Lorenzo said. “Also, heavy menses will often resolve with treatment with oral contraceptive pills.”

As collegiettes, we don’t always have the best diets while living on our own or depending on dining halls. So it’s no surprise that’s not uncommon for our diets to be lacking iron. It’s important to remember that iron-deficiency cannot be corrected overnight, so you must take it easy while recovering.

4. Impetigo

What is Impetigo?

Impetigo is a fairly common skin infection with the strep or staph infection. Although Dr. Lorenzo explained that it is more common in younger children than in college-aged women, it’s very contagious and easily spread. This means in environments such as college campuses—with many shared spaces—it’s easily spread.

Jordan*, an HC campus correspondent, explained that her impetigo began with one, little pimple (and you thought you hated zits already). “It all started out with a pimple on my face that I scratched or picked at,” she explained. “Next thing I knew, a scab formed and started oozing, spreading the itchy scab to the skin around it. Wherever I touched would get infected with the itchy scab! I went to the doctor and found out it is a form of Staph or Strep of the skin! It is a terribly itchy, oozing yellowish scab.”


  • Rash
  • Blistering around the rash
  • Yellow crust or pus around rash      


Luckily, there are no lab tests required to diagnose impetigo. However, you still need to see a doctor to get an official diagnosis and begin treatment before further contaminating yourself and others.

Treatment and Prevention 

Dr. Lorenzo reassured us that impetigo easily recognized, and just as easily treated! “It is generally fairly easily treated with a prescription antibiotic ointment or oral anti-biotics,” she said.

Just with any other contagious infection, it’s important to avoid contact with those infected and practice healthy habits when it comes to washing your hands. Also, don’t pick your pimples or open wounds and remember to cover open sores when contaminated.


5. Bacterial Vaginosis 

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Dr. Lorenzo explained that bacterial vaginosis is an infection that is the result of “an imbalance in the types of bacteria growing in the vagina.” BV is the most common vaginal infection.


  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Discharge can be thin, white or gray in color and foul-smelling

A visit to the doctor is required to diagnose bacterial vaginosis. The doctor will either perform a pelvic exam, which will observe the vaginal lining or the doctor will collect and examine discharge.
A discharge sample will either be viewed under a microscope to see the presence of the bacteria, or combined with potassium hydrogen to perform a “whiff test.” A whiff test combines the discharge with the potassium hydrogen and, if the bacteria is present, the combination will give off an unique odor.

Treatment and Prevention
Once diagnosed, a doctor will prescribe an anti-biotic to treat the bacterial vaginosis. This will make the symptoms go away quickly, but it’s important to complete the full course of the anti-biotics to ensure all the unhealthy bacteria are destroyed.

Although BV is not transmitted between sexual partners, limiting your number of sexual partners will help lower your chances of getting BV because it will not alter the normal environment of the vagina. Additionally, you should not douche and should remember to practice safe sex.


6. Molloscum Contagiosum

What is Molluscum Contagiosum?
Dr. Lorenzo described Molluscum contagiosm as, “a viral skin infection that causes smooth, raised pearly bumps with a central indentation.”

However, she added that the unfamiliarity with it often causes girls to disregard it. “We see it frequently on skin in the genital area,” she said. “In this area, it is usually spread by sexual contact and often made worse by shaving in the genital area. Many women do not recognize it and think that the bumps are caused by ingrown hairs.”


  • Skin infection
  • White bumps surrounding one central indentation

Given that molluscum contagiosm is easily confused with other skin conditions, it’s important not to write it off as another condition and to seek a doctor’s help.
A doctor can then perform a skin biopsy to determine if the skin condition in question is molluscum contagiosm.

Treatment and Prevention
Since molluscum contagion is self limited (meaning the infection is only in the rash and not other parts of the body), treatment isn’t always necessary. However, this also means that individual lesions can be removed by means of scraping or freezing. 

Molluscum contagion can also be prevented, by avoiding direct contact with someone infected and by using protection during intercourse.

So other than the usual suspects, there are plenty of other common health problems affecting girls just like you. Dr. Lorenzo said it’s important to remember that there are a few important steps that can be taken to ensure your best possible health and protect yourself from problems — both common and rare. “Get plenty of sleep and follow a regular sleep schedule, eat three meals a day, get a moderate amount of exercise, spend some time outside everyday and wash your hands,” she said. Additionally, she added to get all your vaccines (including the flu shot and Gardasil) and to avoid streets drugs, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.
What other health issues have you come across?
Dr. Vivian Lorenzo, Ithaca College
College women from across the country

Carly Sitzer is a junior journalism major and psychology minor at Ithaca College. Originally from Long Island (but don't hate on her accent!), she spent summer 2010 interning at OK! Magazine and Scholastic Parent & Child. This pas summer, she interned at Parenting Magazine and CBS Radio, and she has continued to freelance for CBSNewYork.com. On campus, she is an editor for Buzzsaw Magazine, Ithaca's on-campus, alternative magazine. Additionally, she's involved as a Dean's Host for the Park School of Communications as well  as a peer advisor for freshmen in the communications school. In her free time, she loves to read magazines, wear a tiara, prepare fantastic salads and talk about her puppy, Floppy (who is a mini golden-doodle, but let's not get her started). Her work for Her Campus has received national attention, after appearing on major outlets like Huffington Post and USA Today. To read more of her writing, or learn more about her experiences in journalism, visit her online portfolio here.
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