Whooping Cough: What You Need to Know

Although pertussis, or whooping cough, is most commonly associated with babies, college students are just as susceptible.

Pertussis causes intense fits or spells of coughing and is known for the whooping sound made as air is inhaled. Thousands of new cases are reported each year in the U.S. Symptoms can last for weeks, and in some cases, the coughing can be so intense that eating, drinking or even breathing is difficult.

Although many have been vaccinated for whooping cough, these vaccinations aren’t 100 percent effective. The vaccine wears off over time, so those without a booster may spread the illness. Even those who have had a booster could catch it during intense local outbreaks.

How do I know if I have it?

Whooping cough is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis and is spread through droplets in the air caused by sneezing and coughing. Once the bacterium is present in the airways, they begin to swell and the body produces mucus. What starts like a common cold eventually evolves into a severe cough.

Symptoms are grouped into three stages

  • Stage one: Mild cough, low-grade fever, runny nose
  • Stage two: Worsening cough that is dry, harsh and ends with a whoop sound; cough that may cause vomiting; coughing started by many different actions (eating, talking, etc.)
  • Stage three: Vomiting and whooping sound cease, cough decreases after six weeks

How can I get better?

Because whooping cough symptoms look like other medical conditions, it’s important you visit a health care provider for diagnosis. Whooping cough can be confirmed with a culture taken from the nose.

Your age, medical history and severity of the condition can determine treatment. Hospitalization may be ordered for sever cases. Antibiotics likely will be given to prevent the spread of infection to others. Rest, fluids and fever control are recommended.

How can I prevent it?

If you didn’t have a booster, called Tdap, as a pre-teen, get one now. When it’s time for you to get your regular tetanus booster (recommended every 10 years), get a Tdap instead.

When you have a cough, remember to cover it with your sleeve or a tissue to prevent spreading germs and wash your hands often.

If you suspect your symptoms are worsening, see a medical provider. Early treatment prevents the spread of whooping cough, so don’t put off scheduling an appointment. Call 402.472.5000 to be seen at the University Health Center.

Take Control of Your Sexual Health by Getting Tested

By Jamie Porter, health promotions analyst

Not getting tested for STIs because you’re worried what will happen if you have one is like not checking your bank account because you’re scared you have no money.

bank account meme.png

It doesn’t solve any of your issues, buries your anxiety and can potentially make the problem worse.

Getting tested regularly is one of the best things you can do for your sexual health. Here’s why:

  • You won’t necessarily know if you have one without getting tested. The majority of people with STIs experience little to no symptoms and often attribute these symptoms to other causes like UTIs.
  • Your partners won’t necessarily know if they have one, either. One in six people with HIV in the U.S. don’t know they are infected (CDC, 2015).
  • You can get treatment. Many STIs are curable, and all are manageable with treatment. Untreated STIs can lead to complications including pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and chronic pelvic pain (CDC, 2015). When you get tested regularly, you increase the chances of being able to catch infections early on.
  • STIs are on the rise. National rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rose 6 percent, 13 percent, and 19 percent, respectively, from 2014-2015 (CDC, 2015).
  • STDs disproportionately affect young people. Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates are highest among 15-24 year olds (CDC, 2015).
  • Even if you practice safer sex (including but not limited to using condoms or other forms of barrier protection), there are STIs that are spread from skin to skin contact alone (e.g., herpes).

Getting tested gives you peace of mind and helps you tackle any issues head-on. With resources available at the University Health Center, you can take control of your sexual health. HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia tests are offered at no additional charge at the UHC when ordered by a provider. And, for Get Yourself Tested (GYT) month, if you refer a friend to get tested at the Rapid HIV Test Site, you both can receive $5 Scooter’s gift cards!

Let’s Talk About Depression

“You say you’re ‘depressed’—all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective—it just means you’re human.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Tomorrow is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is Depression: Let’s Talk.

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. and yet it’s still considered somewhat of a taboo topic to discuss. There’s a perception that depression doesn’t exist or that it’s nothing more than a personal problem or sign of weakness. This stigmatization surrounding depression stems from a misunderstanding of what depression is and is not.

So let’s debunk a few depression myths, shall we?

  1. Depression isn’t a feeling or reality that a person brought on themselves and isn’t something you can “just get over.” It’s a serious illness, not a character flaw. You wouldn’t accuse someone with brain cancer for being lazy and causing their own illness, so why treat people with depression this way?
  1. Depression isn’t simply being sad. Some moments in life—the loss of a loved one, moving away from home or failing an exam—warrant grieving. Depression and grief share some of the same features, but they are not one in the same. For example, grief is often fleeting, whereas depression lasts for weeks. Grief doesn’t typically affect self-esteem, but with depression, it’s common to loathe oneself and feel hopeless. Grief can lead to depression in some cases, but it’s important to distinguish the two.
  1. Depression isn’t just a woman’s disease. While it’s true that women suffer from depression twice as often as men, no one is immune from depression; it’s an equal-opportunity illness. All ages, genders, races and economic statuses can be affected.
  1. Depression doesn’t just affect the mind, but the entire body as well. It can negatively impact your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infections and illnesses. It affects appetite, which can cause serious weight loss or gain. Headaches, stomach pain and other physical symptoms can occur if depression is left untreated. Unipolar major depression is the leading cause of disability, and only heart disease tops depression in causes of lost work days in the U.S.
  1. Depression won’t usually disappear if the sufferer ignores it for long enough and refuses to seek help. If treated, depression symptoms can decrease or even disappear. If left untreated, it could lead to failing health or even suicide.

About one in five people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. With those odds, it’s likely you already interact with someone who currently deals with from depression. Here are a few ways you can help support them and end the stigma surrounding depression:

  • Be the example. Take an online mental health screening at least once a year and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are worried you might be struggling with depression, make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 402.472.7450.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know, the better stigma buster you’ll be. Take time to research depression and other mental illnesses. A good place to start would be the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
  • Watch your language. Expressions like “get over it” or “just relax” can minimize how a person feels. Instead use supportive language like “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well” and ask what you can do to help.
  • Listen and be supportive. People who are depressed often feel isolated, so check in on them and ask them how they’re doing. Spend time with them when you can and know it’s OK to not know what to say. Showing them you care may motivate them to seek treatment if they haven’t already.
  • Be kind. Small acts of kindness can go a long way, whether it’s a simple smile to your fellow classmate who passes you on campus or inviting that friend you haven’t talked to in a while out for coffee to chat.
  • Share your story. Talking about your struggle with depression can help you recover and challenge stereotypes. It may even encourage others to get help if they need it.

For more information on mental wellness and CAPS services, visit health.unl.edu/caps

Protect Yourself From Pink Eye

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is on the rise across the Lincoln community. Here are the top five things you need to know about this common eye condition:

  1. Pink eye can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, and each requires a different treatment approach. The more common version, viral conjunctivitis, can last several weeks and is usually accompanied by a respiratory infection. Cool compresses or over-the-counter decongestant eye drops can be used while the infection runs its course. Usually, a trip to the doctor is not needed in this case. However, bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with a variety of antibiotic eye drops or ointments, which require a prescription.
  2. Allergies, such as pollen or dust mites, can cause conjunctivitis. Treatment typically involves eye drops to control itching. Allergy season has arrived on campus, so monitor those itchy eyes and make an appointment if over-the-counter solutions are not improving symptoms.
  3. Make an appointment with a doctor if you have moderate to severe eye pain, vision problems, intense eye redness or symptoms that get worse or persist. To make an appointment at the University Health Center, call 402.472.5000.
  4. Pink eye can be very contagious. Avoid sharing towels or pillowcases even if you don’t suspect you have pink eye. Wash your hands often and avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  5. Re-infection can occur if you don’t take proper precautions. Dispose of any contact lenses, contact lens solutions and cases you used while infected. Pitch the eye or face makeup and applicators you used while infected. Give your eyeglasses and cases a thorough cleaning before use after you’ve been infected.

Are You Hooked on the Numbers?

By Anne Widga, University Health Center dietitian

Tracking health numbers has become a popular way to diet or maintain one’s current weight, especially for college students. Phone apps like MyFitnessPal have made it easier to watch what we eat, and fitness trackers like Fitbits can calculate an approximate number of calories burned through exercise.

Although this tracking can be helpful in some cases, it becomes fruitless and even dangerous if it leads to obsessive, over-the-top number tracking.

Why it can be unhealthy

Over tracking is when the numbers matter more than the food on your plate. You could be meeting your “unofficial caloric goal” for the day without eating the full breadth of nutrients your body needs to function properly. This can cause exhaustion, depression and leave you without enough energy to make it through your daily routine.

Setting your expectations on meeting an exact number of calories eaten or burned in one day actually sets you up for failure, not success. As a college student, there are many variables that can change the way your day plays out, so you may not always meet the rigid numbers you set in a phone app. This can lead to disappointment and cause you to lose sight of your goals.

It’s also important to know that labeling laws allow a 20 percent margin of error on the nutrition facts panel, just as there is wide variability in the accuracy of fitness wearables. So all the time spent on numbers could all be for naught!

A healthier approach

Here are some better ways to meet your goals and spend your time than over tracking:

  1. Listen to your body. Get acquainted with and pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues.
  2. Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full. Be aware that it takes your brain about 20 minutes to register fullness, so if you’re done eating in 10 minutes, you won’t know if you’re full or not.
  3. Focus on eating when you’re eating. This means sitting down to eat and putting the phone or computer away. Pay attention to the taste and texture of foods. Take time to eat slowly and enjoy the foods you’re eating. Food serves to meet a physical need but also an emotional need for satisfaction.
  4. Give yourself some flexibility. Allow yourself to indulge in a favorite food now and then, knowing that it’s not something that would be supportive to your wellness goals if eaten daily.
  5. Learn to trust your body. It is your best friend when it comes to telling you when you’re eating well and when you’re balancing your activity and your rest appropriately.

Once you learn to trust your body and what it’s telling you rather than relying on a gadget that provides statistically-based numbers, you’ll feel a sense of freedom. You’ll realize how much time and emotional energy you wasted on being a slave to the numbers.

If you need additional nutritional help, make an appointment with me at the University Health Center. Remember, students who pay student fees receive their first nutrition counseling session at no additional cost! Call 402.472.5000 to schedule your appointment.

Survival Guide for Springtime Allergies

If you have allergies, spring’s arrival last week may have brought mixed feelings. Around late March, allergy-causing plants and molds begin to flourish in Nebraska, and the predictable and relentless symptoms of sneezing, itching, congestion and watery eyes often follow.

Approximately one-third of the population has allergies. The numbers may be even higher in the Midwest due to the high prevalence of seasonal allergens such as ragweed, tree pollens and grasses. Perennial allergens such as dust mites, which prefer to live where there is 50 percent or more humidity, are also higher in the Midwest.

Take Control of Your Allergies 

Allergies don’t have to put a crimp on your lifestyle. You can minimize symptoms by being proactive and taking some preventive strategies. Begin over-the-counter allergy medications like antihistamines and topical nasal steroid sprays at the beginning of allergy season, even before symptoms appear. The antihistamine will block the histamine receptor to help prevent significant sneezing and runny nose, and nasal steroid sprays help to reduce swelling in your nose and the cascade of other allergy symptoms.

Once you get behind, it’s harder to clear up symptoms and it may take up to several days or more to get symptoms under control.

You can also practice these avoidance measures to minimize symptoms: 

  • As the weather warms, keep windows closed to avoid letting pollen inside and run the air conditioner in your dorm or apartment to circulate air. Tree pollens are especially hardy. Once they get inside your living space, they can last for months.
  • Check the daily weather report for local pollen and mold counts. When counts are high, reduce outdoor activity if possible. Pollen counts are usually highest on warm, dry, windy days and in the early morning.
  • Use nasal salt-water rinses to rinse allergens from inside the lining of your nose.
  • Wash your skin, hair and clothing after being outside.
  • Use a dehumidifier in your room during the humid season.
  • Pre-medicate if you are planning to be outside for a significant amount of time to minimize symptoms.

A combination of oral antihistamines combined with nasal sprays produce the best results. When over-the-counter medications fail to work or your symptoms begin interfering with school, work or sleep, it’s time to see your physician.

The University Health Center can offer treatments beyond over-the-counter meds such as medications, nasal sprays and steroid shots. To make an appointment, call 402.472.5000.

National Nutrition Month: Tips for Eating Smart in the Dining Halls

By Anne Widga, University Health Center dietitian

Making healthy choices can be challenging when facing a buffet of foods at the dining halls. It’s tempting to go back for second or even third helpings, and of course, the dessert bar always looks delicious! If you aren’t careful, things can get out of hand quickly, which can lead to unbalanced nutrition or unwanted weight gain.

Here are a few ways to make smart eating choices on campus:

  1. Make a plan before you eat. Use the UNL Dining Services phone app or website to discover what food is being served in which dining halls or scope out the food when you arrive. Before filling up your plate, pause for a moment to consider your hunger level and what you’ve already eaten for the day.
  2. Get to know the dining hall staff. If you have a food allergy or intolerance or are someone who needs a specific nutrition plan to manage a health condition, these friendly folks can be your best resource. They can answer your questions, save you time and minimize your frustration when choosing what to eat.
  3. Follow the MyPlate model. You need foods from each food group (fruits, veggies, dairy, grains, healthy fats and protein) every day to give your body the nutrients it needs to function effectively. This might mean a trip to more than one area in the dining hall, but it’s worth it.
  4. Take advantage of the salad bar. Eating fruit and vegetables daily is important, and the salad bar can be a great place to stock up. Try different types of greens and other veggies for variety. Add a source of protein (eggs, ham, chicken, tofu, etc.) to make it a complete meal. Adding a single serving of fat such as salad dressing, cheese or sunflower seeds will help slow the salad’s digestion to keep you feeling full and satisfied longer.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If dining hall food is becoming boring or monotonous to you, add some variety by going to a different dining hall or trying a new menu item for the first time. Your tastes are continuously evolving, so you might discover you like a food you once hated.
  6. Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast—or any meal for that matter—can sabotage your success. You won’t think as clearly or fully absorb what you learn in class if you don’t eat.It can also lower your blood sugar, which can lead to overeating and can negatively affect your mood. Breakfast doesn’t have to be huge. Keep it simple with a piece of toast, yogurt or milk and fruit.
  7. Make wise beverage choices. No one needs the added sugar found in sodas. A glass of water or milk is a better choice as is unsweetened coffee or tea in moderation.
  8. Limit your second helpings. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to know if you feel full or not, so eat slowly and mindfully. If you do this and still feel hungry, try to make your second helping a veggie or serving of protein. Not skipping meals also helps curb the tendency to overeat.
  9. Enjoy the moment. Don’t be afraid to pick a day — maybe once a week — when you know your favorite dessert or treat is being offered, and plan it into your meal. Never allowing yourself to indulge is unnecessary and can set you up for feelings of guilt when you do have one now and then. Try not to worry how many calories your meal is and whether dessert will ruin your diet. Look forward to your mealtime as a necessary diversion from studies and time to spend with friends.