The Independent Pharmacy helps freshers get university-ready with the ultimate guide to student health. What have you forgotten to pack?

Going to university offers an exciting degree of independence, allowing students to form relationships and decide who they want to be. Being independent takes time to get right, though, and they can easily end up neglecting their health and wellbeing as they study.

To help with this, The Independent Pharmacy has created the ultimate medical guide for fresher students, complete with expert advice on treating common illnesses and a checklist of 10 vital medical items students should never forget to bring.

Top 10 essential medical products for students

  1. Plasters: To speed up the healing process following minor injuries such as scrapes or grazes and reduce the likelihood of infection. Use waterproof and breathable plasters for additional comfort and longer-lasting effects.

  1. Painkillers: To ease pain caused by minor injuries, headaches, and migraines. Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers such as paracetamol and aspirin should suffice (please do not exceed the maximum dosage outlined on the packaging).

  1. STI testing kits: To quickly diagnose common sexually-transmitted infections such as chlamydia. These kits can be found online or at local medical practices.

  1. Contraception: To promote good sexual health and prevent unplanned pregnancy. The condom is currently the only form of contraception that protects against STIs.

  1. Hand sanitiser: To promote good hygiene and prevent illness.

  1. Antibacterial & antiseptic cream: To prevent minor scrapes and cuts becoming infected. Apply antibacterial or antiseptic cream to a minor wound before placing a plaster on the affected area.

  1. Acid reflux medication: To relieve acid build-up and heartburn, typically after drinking. Alcohol produces excess stomach acid and weakens stomach tissue.

  1. Cold & flu medication: To soothe coughs, colds, sore throats, and the infamous freshers’ flu. Please ensure you do not exceed the recommended dosage.

  1. Antihistamines (allergy medication): To reduce allergy symptoms like congestion, itchiness, or watery eyes. Use them on rashes or bites or after allergic reactions.

  1. Vitamins & supplements: To support a healthy and well-balanced diet.

 

Talking about the importance of bringing a medical kit with essential student products to university, Dr Don Grant from The Independent Pharmacy said the following:

“While it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of university or college, student health remains a key concern. When packing for university, we implore every student to prepare a medical box containing products that can help treat a host of everyday issues.

“Having a basic first aid kit prepared in advance means you can treat common problems quickly and effectively without wasting vital time. This is why we recommend putting plasters and over-the-counter painkillers at the top of your list.

“Minor injuries like grazes or small cuts may seem inconsequential, but these wounds often become infected unless treated. Bacteria grow in the wound and multiply, leading to much more serious issues. Washing a wound and treating it with antiseptic cream from your medical kit reduces the chance of infection and encourages the healing process.

“Viruses like cold and flu are easily spread in a university environment, hence the notorious freshers’ flu that impacts many students’ early university experiences. Having cold and flu medication to hand helps students recover quicker, allowing them to use their time well.

“Sexual health is particularly important for students attending university. A Unifresher survey found that one in ten UK students had a sexually-transmitted infection during their studies. Packing contraception such as condoms is essential for promoting good sexual health.

“Equally, we advise using STI testing kits following sexual activity for peace of mind. Usefully, self-testing kits for chlamydia tend to be freely available for women at most medical practices. Many universities provide safe spaces to test and treat STIs.”

Most common illnesses for freshers

  1. Freshers’ flu. This infamous illness is not true flu. Freshers’ flu is better described as a heavy cold. It’s contracted through a range of factors including mingling with large groups, lacking sufficient sleep, and having a bad diet. Those with freshers’ flu tend to experience coughs, sore throats, runny noses, nausea, tiredness, and headaches.

  1. Skin conditions. Acne, eczema and rosacea (among other common skin conditions) may flare up during someone’s time at university. You can treat these conditions using over-the-counter creams and ointments. More severe symptoms likely require medical attention (if necessary, a doctor can prescribe a steroid).

  1. Sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). One in ten UK students reported having a sexually-transmitted infection at university. A Unifresher survey shows that chlamydia is the most common STI (9.4%), followed by herpes and gonorrhoea. It’s vital to use contraception and test for STIs following sexual contact with a new partner.

  1. Glandular fever. Also known as mono (mononucleosis) or the kissing disease, glandular fever mostly affects teenagers and young adults. It’s contracted through saliva or spit. Symptoms include an extremely-high temperature, exhaustion, and a severe sore throat with swollen glands. Those with glandular fever have it for up to 3 weeks, though tiredness can persist for months after.

  1. Meningitis. According to UCAS, meningitis is one of the “major health risks” to young students attending their first year of university (they are the second most at-risk group for contracting it). Meningitis is a killer when not treated quickly. You develop a fever, stiff neck, and sensitivity to bright light. You can also suffer seizures and develop a red rash that doesn’t disappear when a glass is rolled over the area.

 

Talking about treating freshers’ flu and other common university illnesses, Dr Don Grant from The Independent Pharmacy said the following:

On treating freshers’ flu:

“The average student will experience a bad cold – or what many describe as freshers’ flu – during their time at university. Due to this, it’s important to know how to best manage cold symptoms such as sore throats, runny noses, and bouts of tiredness.

“My top tip for treating freshers’ flu is to drink lots of water. High temperatures and fevers contribute to dehydration as you’re sweating more than usual – and nausea symptoms like vomiting compound this by expelling even more liquid from your body.

“Ease symptoms using cold and flu medication like Day & Night Nurse. These medications often come in capsule form and offer protection from irritating coughs, aches, and pains caused by a heavy cold. Day & Night Nurse combines several active ingredients, using paracetamol to ease mild pain, pseudoephedrine to reduce congestion, pholcodine and dextromethorphan to suppress coughs, and promethazine to reduce nasal dripping.

“Because many cold and flu medications contain full doses of paracetamol, you mustn’t take any other paracetamol-containing product while using cold and flu medication. If you need additional pain relief, you can take ibuprofen or aspirin.

“A good diet is essential for building up your immune system to fight infection. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and ensure you’re consuming sufficient vitamin C. Vitamin C has a vital immune function that can prevent freshers’ flu from getting worse. You can get enough vitamin C through your regular diet by eating peppers and citrus fruits such as oranges.

“Fajitas containing various peppers and vegetables are excellent food choices when you have a cold. They’re packed with nutrients, affordable, quick, and easy to make. If you’re struggling to get vitamin C into your diet, consider supplementing your meals with vitamin tablets. A typical adult aged between 19 and 64 requires 40mg of vitamin C per day.”

On getting sexual health checkups:

“I would advise regular sexual health checkups when you introduce a new sexual partner, so you can keep you and your partner safe. These checks are very simple and a routine procedure so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s important to remember that STDs can go unnoticed as symptoms can be light or not at all – so it’s best to get routinely checked every 3-6 months if you are having contact with new or multiple partners.

“Which sexual health services a student can access depends on their university. Most institutions have dedicated clinics on or around their campuses, though, with treatment being completely free through the NHS.

“HIV testing tends to be available for high-risk groups such as those with sexual partners known to be HIV-positive and people from countries with high rates of HIV. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea screenings are available to women, and also men who’ve been in contact with people who have these conditions.

“If you have symptoms of a sexually-transmitted infection, you should make a sexual health appointment to get support and advice through your local clinic. Some universities work in partnership with screening services to deliver testing kits and blood-spot tests via post.”

On treating acne:

“When skin conditions such as acne and eczema flare up, they damage people’s confidence. This makes them particularly worrisome for students at university, as they’re dealing with unfamiliar surroundings and situations that can cause them major stress.

“Taking care of your skin is as much about your diet and lifestyle habits as it is about treatment. Acne, for example, affects lots of university students because they take up smoking and drinking and stop eating healthily. And while spots can be triggered by stress and worry, they can also stem from dirty phones, pillowcases, and makeup brushes.

“Take action by making simple lifestyle changes. Improve your diet (foods rich in omega 3 and vitamin D are particularly good). Ensure that you’re staying well-hydrated. Maintain a strong level of cleanliness by washing regularly (face wash can help clear clogged pores).

“If you suffer from severe or stubborn acne and can’t find a way to reduce it, you should speak to a medical professional. They can figure out what your skin needs and prescribe a topical steroid if there’s no other viable course of action.”

Make certain you’re vaccinated for meningitis and MMR

In January 2022, a report from the UK Health Security Agency indicated that meningitis B cases among students were rising sharply. Between September and November 2021, 41.5% of meningitis cases occurred among those aged 15 to 19.

The MenACWY vaccine to prevent meningitis and septicemia is available to all fresher students, and to anyone born before 1st September 1996 until they turn 25.

Outbreaks of measles, mumps and rubella can also occur at universities, so it’s important to check you’ve had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine.

Ask your GP if you’re unsure about your vaccination history.


Talking about the importance of receiving the MENACWY vaccine, Dr Don Grant from The Independent Pharmacy said the following:

On getting the MENACWY vaccine:

“Meningitis is one of the biggest threats to student health. It’s thought that one in four 15-to-19-year-olds carry the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and septicaemia (or blood poisoning). Both meningitis and septicaemia trigger sepsis, which can be a killer.

“Many students likely received the MenACWY when they were much younger, but some never got the jab. Anyone who missed vaccination while they were at school and is younger than 25 can easily book it by asking their GP.”

On spotting meningitis in your friendship group:

“Meningitis bacteria are spread from person to person via prolonged close contact. Think kissing, coughing, and sneezing. Infection can occur at any age, but teenagers are particularly vulnerable (along with babies and young children).

“Meningitis usually presents itself as a red rash that doesn’t fade when rolled over with clear glass. That said, the rash doesn’t always occur, making meningitis sometimes difficult to spot. Other common symptoms include neck stiffness, a high temperature, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and a sudden dislike of bright light.

“If you notice meningitis symptoms in yourself, a friend, or anyone else you encounter at university, seek medical advice as a matter of urgency. Meningitis can be treated with a course of strong antibiotics, but early diagnosis is essential to a strong recovery.”

Freshers! Register with youruniversity GP

If you’re a student moving away to attend university, your new town or city will become your adopted home — so why shouldn’t you register with the local health service?

Talking about the importance of university students registering with their local GPs, Dr Don Grant from The Independent Pharmacy said the following:

“Students often forget to register with their local GPs — but they shouldn’t. Your GP is your primary point of contact with the NHS, a service responsible for your overall health and wellbeing. They can provide you with continuous care, giving you general checkups and writing you vital prescriptions. And since it’s easy to sign up with the Find a GP tool on the NHS website, there’s no reason to wait.

“Student life is rich with freedom and potential, and it’s important to take full advantage. If you get carried away, though, it can end up compromising your health, leading you to regret your decisions. With the right approach and some good habits, you can have a great time at university without negatively impacting your wellbeing.”