Tuesday, August 9, 2016

College Student Essential: the Medication Box

August has arrived, which means panic is setting in for many families as they pack up their high school graduate and send them off to college. Pinterest-driven dorm room cuteness shifts much of the focus (at least for girls) to inspirational quotes, picture displays and twinkling lights.  Mothers alternate between doing everything for their "baby" one last time, to cramming in last minute instructions on washing clothes and paying attention to car maintenance. If your child takes any medications on a regular basis (prescription or not), then I would like to add one or twoVERY important items to your college shopping list:

  • Weekly medication dispenser 
  • Medication lock box
Why do kids need an "old person's" medication box? The same reason that birth control pills come labeled by the day! Taking medications can be so routine that we often do not pay full attention to what we are doing as we pop in the daily antihistamine (or vitamin, or whatever). How many times have you finished brushing your teeth, then wondered- wait, did I take my pill yet? If your pills are in a day-labeled container, you have your answer. If they are in a bottle...you have to guess. This is particularly an issue for freshmen college students, because in many households, parents set out the medications each morning with breakfast...which means that students who have not been in charge of their own medications have not had to create this habit on their own. I regularly see young people who are having side effects because they accidentally took their ADD medication twice in one morning (especially when have an early class, then go back and sleep before their next class, and basically repeat their morning routine when they wake up the second time).  On the opposite end, students who take medications for depression or anxiety often forget to take their medications (especially when they are feeling fine), but then deal with aches, pains and brain "fuzziness" the next day that they may not even realize is from skipping a pill. Using these simple day-labeled boxes takes the guesswork out of whether or not you have taken your pills.

Keeping prescription medications- especially ADD meds- in a lock box reduces the temptation for others to "borrow" any pills. Unfortunately, ADD medications are abused as "study aids" and "weight loss pills" on most campuses. Let me note here that it is a FELONY to buy or sell these drugs- even ONE pill to ONE "friend".  WARN YOUR CHILD. If your student takes ADD medications, encourage them to keep these prescriptions in a locked box, tucked away in their room. Once a week, they can fill their daily dispenser, and keep that in a safe but easily accessible place. For girls- there are cute med boxes that look like make up pouches or wallets- and some even have a spot to keep a copy of your insurance card. By the way...if you have a senior in high school, consider putting them in charge of their medications in this same fashion, so next year isn't so challenging!

BOTTOM LINE: For students (and the rest of us) who take daily medications, using a simple daily pill dispenser improves accuracy and keeps us healthier!
(Disclaimer- I have no ties, financial or otherwise, with the makers of these products, but they both work great.)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Moving in to a DORM? Double Check Your Vaccinations!

Why do COLLEGE STUDENTS need the Meningitis Vaccine?

What is meningococcal disease? The bacteria Neisseria meningitidis causes a range of illnesses that can rapidly progress to be fatal if not immediately recognized and treated. Meningitis is an infection of the lining of the brain that can cause coma, sepsis and death. Early symptoms start like the flu- fever, headache, body aches, and possibly nausea and vomiting, then the headache progresses in severity, the neck becomes very stiff and painful, and the person may become confused or even unconscious. A very specific RASH can alert clinicians to this dangerous disease- it is dark red/purple and does not whiten if pressed upon. This rash is caused by leakage of blood vessels as the bacteria releases toxins into the blood stream. Survivors of a severe meningococcal infection may have lost fingers, toes or even limbs as a direct result of this blood vessel damage.

Meningococcal disease is especially noteworthy here in Texas, where we were the first state to pass legislation to require the meningococcal vaccine for every college student. Sadly, this legislation came after one student at Texas A&M died (Nicolis Williams) in 2011, and a University of Texas sophomore (Jamie Schanbaum) had lost both legs, fingers, and narrowly survived meningococcal infection. The Texas law is named for both of these students. Jamie has remarkably gone on to not only champion efforts to educate about vaccine prevention for meningococcal disease, but to win a gold medal in the paralympics.

Who needs this vaccine?  The meningococcal vaccine has NEW RECOMMENDATIONS- all adolescents should still receive their first shot (the MCV4) at age 11-12, as previously recommended, but now we know they need a BOOSTER DOSE at or after age 16, before they head off to college. Although initially thought to offer protection for a decade, it turns out that the immunity begins to wane in this age group after 5 years. Yes, they still needed that earlier vaccine to protect against the herds of kids joining them in close quarters at school and summer camp, but we want them maximally protected as well when they move into that dorm!

In addition, military recruits (also living in crowded quarters like a dorm) and anyone who has had their spleen removed should get this vaccine.  Travelers to sub-Sahara Africa during the dry season are also at increased risk, so vaccination is recommended for this group as well.

BOTTOM LINE: Protect your adolescent against this rapidly progressive, dangerous disease by making sure they received not only their initial vaccine at 11-12 years, but also their BOOSTER before they head off to college! (If they are already in college but missed their booster, add this to their holiday wish list...)

Image above from NY Times