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General Health Matters: N - Z

The General Health Matters series covers health topics pertinent to student life in order to promote a safe and healthy university experience.

Topics in this series include:

Back Pain
Body Art
Common Cold
Comp. Therapies
Contact Lenses
Eating Disorders
Finding a Doctor
Gas and Gas Pain
Keeping Warm
Pink Eye
Sore Throat
Sprains & Strains
Summer Sores
Viral Gastroenteritis

If there are topics of interest you would like to see in our Health Matters series, send us an health [dot] promotion [at] mcgill [dot] ca (e-mail) .

N - Z

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Pinkeye


What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is also commonly referred to as “Pink Eye” or “Red Eye”. It is an infection causing redness and soreness of the conjunctiva which is the thin transparent membrane that lines the inside of your eyelid.

It appears relatively quickly and often will not last for a long period. It can go away on its own but in some cases you will need to see a doctor for treatment.

What causes it?

It can be caused by both bacterial or viral infection. It can also be caused by a number of other things such as unclean contact lenses or allergies such as hay fever.

What are the symptoms?

Your eyes will most likely be red and irritated. The inside of your eyelids will also look redder or pinker than usual.

You may feel as though there is something in your eye. You may also feel a scratching or burning sensation or feeling of fullness around the eyes.

There may be some itching or pain and there is usually some type of discharge that is worse when you wake up as the eyes may be crusty or sticky after sleeping. Mostly both eyes are affected but it often starts with one and then the other follows. Sometimes people with pink eye are sensitive to light.

When should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
-severe discharge, redness, or swelling around the eye
-extreme eye pain
-extreme sensitivity to light
-blurry vision or persistent blurred vision
-pupils are different sizes
-if you had recent eye surgery

What should you do if you have conjunctivitis?

Pink Eye is highly contagious so to prevent the spread of infection, there are a number of things that you can do. Wash your hands thoroughly and more frequently, especially after each time you touch your eyes or face. Wash pillowcases, towels or clothing that may have come in contact with your eye. Throw away make-up, contact lenses or any toiletry that may have touched the eye and avoid wearing make-up or contact lenses.

Do not touch or rub the infected eye because the infection can spread to the good eye. Apply a warm salt water compress for 5 minutes three times a day. Avoid smoke and other irritants.

Tips for Contact Lens Wearers

  • Clean and disinfect your lenses everyday
  • Never use saliva to clean your contacts
  • Wash your hands before handling lenses
  • Never lend or wear another person’s contacts
  • Insert lenses before applying eye makeup and take them out before removing make-up
  • Do not sleep with contacts on
  • Do not wear your lenses for longer than prescribed
  • Do not let the tip of the solution bottle touch any surface or the contact lens to prevent contamination


Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Sleep


What's so great about sleep?
Sleep allows our minds and bodies to rest and be restored. Without it we can no longer function both physically and mentally; we may experience irritability, a decreased ability to fight disease, as well as poor concentration, memory and reaction time.

How much sleep do I need?

Individual sleep needs varies widely. Researchers agree that collectively we are experiencing a “sleep debt”; by this they mean that most of us are not getting enough sleep. In fact, the average North American now gets approximately 7 hours of sleep a night, a fairly sharp drop from the 9 to 10 hours we used to get around a hundred years ago.

If you find that you can get by on 6 to 7 hours a night without feeling groggy or unfocused during the day, then you are probably okay. However, if you constantly find yourself unable to concentrate because of fatigue, or if you find yourself falling asleep while watching TV, reading or (worst of all) in class, you may be experiencing a sleep debt of your own. If you are unable to change your habits, you may be in for a life of inefficiency, irritability and illness.

Four events in recent history – the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the nuclear incidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – all happened between midnight and 4 a.m. local time. Human error due to sleepiness may have contributed in each case.

Having Difficulty Sleeping?

Here are a few hints to help you sleep:
Establish a routine bedtime and waking time. If fact, as much as possible, try to establish a regular schedule for exercise, meals, studying, etc. If you are having trouble falling asleep, get up at the same time every day (even on weekends), no matter when you go to bed.

You may even want to establish a regular night time routine to get you in the mood for sleep. Try to read a book for 15 minutes, watch the news, listen to music or write in your diary every night. Studying a textbook is a classical sleep-inducer at McGill.

Do not “go to bed early”; go to bed when you are tired.
After a certain hour (say 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.) turn off the ringer on your phone so that you won’t be tempted to stay up talking to a late night caller. You could also put a sleeping sign on your door if you have roommates.

Reduce the amount of caffeine and alcohol in the evening; the former will keep you awake, the latter will disrupt your sleep so that even though you may fall asleep easily, you will probably wake up in the middle of the night.

Try to avoid late evening activities that are highly stimulating. For example, stop studying or writing that term paper one hour before you go to bed; this will give you time to unwind.

If you are hungry before bed time, have a light snack. Both hunger and being overly full are enemies of a good night’s rest.

Do not force yourself to sleep. If you are still wide awake after 30 minutes, leave your bedroom, do something quiet and relaxing and go back to bed when you are drowsy.

Warm milk really does work; it contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid which is believed to help induce sleep.

If you can't sleep because you keep thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow make a detailed to-do list that organizes your day . When you feel organized, your anxiety level should decrease and you may have less trouble falling asleep. Try to use you bedroom only for sleep, sex or when you are sick. Doing other activities in bed, such as watching TV or studying, may alter your perception of your bed as a place for sleep.

Diet pills often contain ingredients that disrupt sleep.

If your sleeplessness arises from worry or grief, try to correct or seek help. McGill's Counselling Service (398-3601) offers stress management workshops and therapists at the Mental Health Service (398-6019) are available to help you through difficult times.

Nicotine is a stronger sleep-preventer than caffeine. People who smoke generally take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and have less REM sleep.

The Art of Relaxation
If relaxing at bedtime is the problem, try the following technique:

Lie in your bed on your back, with your eyes closed. Concentrate first on your breathing, taking slow, deep breaths. Then begin to concentrate on relaxing each part of your body, starting with your toes. Tighten the muscles in each foot, then release. Think about the sensation of feeling your foot relaxing. If you still feel tension, tense the muscle and release again. Repeat the same procedure with your calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, back, chest, shoulders and neck. When you reach your head, roll it slowly from side to side three times. Think of how limp and relaxed your body feels and let your mind drift.

Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills or even tranquilizers may be appropriate at certain times; for example, following serious emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one. In cases such as these a doctor may prescribe medication for a short period of time. Taking sleeping pills for general insomnia is not recommended for several reasons:

Sleeping pills do not actually help you sleep. Rather, sleeping pills knock you out by depressing your nervous system. This process is not restful like normal sleep, but instead is exhausting. In addition, sleeping pills interfere with the REM sleep (the time during which you dream and which is considered vital for mental health). Disturbance of REM sleep can lead to impaired learning, as well as problems with concentration and memory.

Sleeping pills have dangerous side effects, which may include kidney and liver damage, circulatory problems, increased blood pressure, central nervous system damage, impaired digestion and other physical or psychological problems. Sleeping pills can only be taken safely for a very short period of time, generally a few days at the most.

Sleeping pills are addictive. Studies show that people develop a tolerance to sleeping pills within as little as 2 weeks and need increasingly large doses to achieve the same effects.

Sleep fact

Car accidents increase by 7% the day after we move the clocks up (and lose 1 hour of sleep) and decrease by 7% the day after we turn the clocks back (and gain 1 hour of sleep).


Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Sore Throat

Sore Throat

Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of a sore throat include pain in the throat especially when talking or swallowing, fever, hoarseness or laryngitis, swollen lymph nodes of the neck, a red throat, or pus on the tonsils.

What causes a sore throat?

A sore throat is often a sign that your body is fighting off a viral or bacterial infection. Other causes include allergens, cigarette smoke, or straining the voice from yelling.

What to do for a sore throat...

  • Get plenty of rest and drink more fluids
  • Gargle every 2 to 3 hours with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of warm water
  • Suck on hard candies or sip warm liquids like broth or hot tea with lemon to soothe and lubricate your throat
  • Increase the humidity in your room with a humidifier or turn on a hot shower to create steam
  • Stop smoking or cut down and avoid second-hand smoke
  • Avoid eating spicy foods
  • Try not to use your voice for long periods and refrain from yelling or screaming
  • Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain and/or fever
  • If you have been prescribed an antibiotic, take all of it


Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Strains and sprains

Strains and Sprains

What is a sprain?
A sprain is an injury to a ligament (fibrous tissue that connects bones). You can get a sprain if you overstretch or tear a ligament. The joint is affected but there is no dislocation or fracture. One or more ligaments can be injured so the severity will depend on the extent of the injury and the number of ligaments involved. The extent of the injury can range from minor to a complete tear.

Sprains can occur in any joint but the ligaments in the ankle and knee are the most commonly sprained because of the way they are constructed and because they support your body weight. Sprains are usually more serious than strains and take longer to heal.

Sprains usually occur from a sudden fall, twist, or a blow that forces a joint out of its normal position causing the ligament supporting that joint to be overstretched or torn. For instance, if you fall and land on an outstretched arm, slide into base, land on the side of your foot, or twist your knee while your foot is firmly planted on the ground.

What are the symptoms of a sprain?

  • Rapid mild to severe pain
  • Joint tenderness and possible swelling
  • Bruising immediately or up to several hours after the injury
  • A warm feeling at the injured area
  • Inability or difficulty moving the injured joint

What is a strain?

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone). You can get a sprain if you overstretch or twist a muscle or tendon. Strains can be acute or chronic. An acute strain is caused by a blow to the body, overstressing the muscle, or improperly lifting heavy objects. A chronic strain is caused by overuse or repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.

Strains often occur in the back and hamstring (muscle located in the back of the thigh). Some sports that can put you at greater risk for a strain are contact sports like soccer, football, hockey, boxing, and wrestling. Sports that require a lot of gripping like gymnastics, tennis, rowing, or golf can put you at risk for hand and forearm strains. Racquet sports and those involving throwing can put you at risk for elbow strains.

It is possible to have both a sprain and a strain at the same time. For example, an ankle sprain can cause the achilles tendon to be strained.

Mild strains are often simply a nuisance and can repair themselves easily with rest. However, severe strains that partially or completely tear a muscle or tendon can be very painful and disabling.

What are the symptoms of a strain?

  • Muscle stiffness, soreness, and tenderness several hours after the injury
  • Swelling, cramping, or inflammation
  • In some cases, the skin can become discolored several days later

How should you treat a sprain or strain?

Remember the acronym RICE to treat minor sprains and strains. Treating the injury within 24 to 48 hours will reduce the swelling and pain.


Rest: Rest the area for 48 hours, reduce your activities, and try not to put any weight on the injured area. Using a sling, crutches, or a cane may help. Listen to your body to know how much activity you can handle.

Ice: Ice the area during the first 48 hours to reduce swelling. Avoid heat during the first 48 hours as it may increase swelling. Apply a cold pack, or a bag filled with crushed ice, or a bag of frozen peas if you don’t have anything similar. To avoid frostbite, wrap the ice pack or object in a towel first. During the first 2 hours, ice the area every 20 minutes. Then ice for 20 minutes 5 times a day for the remainder of the 48 hours.

Compression: Compress the injured area to reduce the swelling by wrapping the area with an ace bandage or other type of support bandage. If you feel numbness, tingling, or increased pain, it means the bandage is too tight. Remove the bandage every 3 to 4 hours and leave it off for 15 to 20 minutes each time.

Elevate: Elevate the injured area above heart level if possible to reduce swelling. Put your arm in a sling or place your foot or leg on a pillow.

Try an over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary. If you sprained a finger or hand, remove your rings. Liniments or balms can help soothe sore muscles by giving a cooling or warming sensation.

Common Sports Injuries

  • The achilles tendon—the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone at the back of the ankle - can be injured by stretching or tearing leading to pain
  • Shinsplints are caused by inflammation of the tendon on the inside of the front of the lower leg leading to aching, throbbing, or tenderness along the inside of the shin
  • Stress fractures are microfractures caused by suddenly increasing the amount of weight bearing exercise and are common in the bones of the feet or legs
  • Blisters are caused by friction typically from poor-fitting shoes or socks
  • Muscle soreness results from working out too hard or too long

When should you see a doctor?

  • You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint
  • You are unable to stand on your injured leg or walk more than 4 steps without great pain
  • You can’t bend your joint properly
  • There is an obvious deformity of the joint or limb—it looks crooked or has lumps and bumps
  • There is a deep cut over the area
  • You have numbness in any part of the injured area
  • You injured an area that has been injured several times before
  • Swelling and redness is increasing despite following RICE
  • You are not sure how serious the injury is or how to care for it


Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Summer Woes

Summer Woes

Insect Bites and Stings Prevention
Use an insect repellent and wear shoes and socks when outdoors.
Try to avoid sweetly scented perfumes and lotions.
Be careful about eating sweet drippy foods such as ice cream, watermelon and soft drinks.

Caring for stings and bites

If you’ve been stung by a bee, scrape away the end of the stinger, then remove the rest of the stinger in your skin. Try not to pull at the stinger directly or it may pump out more venom.
For relief of insect bites, try ice, calamine lotion or a paste of baking soda and water.
The pain/itching may last 1-7 days. Signs of infection may include redness, decolouration, pus and prolonged swelling.

Sunburn Prevention

Remember the fairer your skin, the more vulnerable you are.
If it’s not too hot, try to cover up with clothing as much as possible.
Use a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 15 over all exposed skin including your face and the back of your neck.

Unlike the rest of your body, the lips do not have the protection of melanin (the skin’s darkening protective pigment). Therefore, protect your lips with a sunscreen in stick form. Many lipsticks and glosses now contain at least SPF 15 so make sure to read the labels of your cosmetics.

Do not rely on water to provide protection from the sun. Apply sunscreen an hour before exposure or swimming to allow sufficient time for the sunscreen to penetrate the outer layer of the skin. Make sure to reapply often especially after swimming or excessive perspiration.

Caring for Sunburns

Soak burned area in cold water.
Use Aspirin or Tylenol to prevent a rise in body temperature and to relieve discomfort.

Heat Exhaustion

Common on hot, humid days:
High body temperature and pale, clammy skin.
Heavy sweating, headache and nausea.
Fatigue and dizziness.

What to do

Immediately move to a cool place and lie down.
Try to cool down any way possible: fanning, wet clothes or a cool bath.
Drink juice or water unless you are vomiting.
Seek medical attention if there is no improvement because it could progress to heatstroke.


Occurs when your body can’t cool down:
Extremely high body temperature.
Red, hot, dry skin and a rapid, strong pulse.
Sweating has stopped.
Possible confusion or unconsciousness.

What to do

Undress, get in a cool bath, sponge bare skin or apply cold packs.
Go to an emergency room.

Preventing Heatstroke

Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-coloured fabrics and a hat or an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun.
Drink plenty of water.
Eat small meals but more often.
Avoid strenuous activity.


Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis (sometimes called “stomach flu”) means inflammation of the stomach and intestines.  It is characterized by diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever. 

The most common way to develop viral gastroenteritis is through:  close contact with an infected person; contact with infected surfaces; and the ingestion of contaminated food or water. If you're otherwise healthy, you’re very likely to recover on your own without any complications. But for infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems, viral gastroenteritis can be deadly. 

There's no specific treatment for viral gastroenteritis. It is most important to stay hydrated and to replace electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Prevention is key. In addition to avoiding food and water that may be contaminated, thorough and frequent hand-washing is your best defense.  Making changes in the diet is an important component in recovery. Initially, healthy carbohydrates are most important as they are more easily digested than protein or fat. If your symptoms include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea it is best to give your stomach a rest from food. Drink extra fluids however. 

Self-Care Measures

  • Drink small amounts of fluid (2-4 oz.) or ice chips every 30-60 minutes, rather than trying to force large amounts at one time - which can cause vomiting.
  • Do NOT use fruit juice (including apple juice), sodas/cola (flat or bubbly), or Jell-O. All of these have a lot of sugar, which worsens diarrhea.
  • Instead use sport drinks like Gatorade or electrolyte replacement solutions to replace electrolytes.
  • If you can tolerate food, eat a small amount at a time. Suggested foods include:  dry toast, potatoes (without sour cream or butter), plain non-fat yogurt, ripe bananas, apple sauce, low-fat sugar-free vegetable broth.


  • Raw fruits and vegetables (NO SALADS).
  • Spicy foods (NO PIZZA OR SAUSAGE).
  • Fried foods
  • Dairy products
  • acetylsalicylic acid (i.e. Aspirin) or ibuprofen (i.e. Advil) for fever or aching as either one can be irritating to an already inflamed stomach. A suggested alternative is acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol).
  • Loperamide HCl (i.e. Imodium) – an anti-diarrheal pill. This can slow down recovery time 

Consult a healthcare professional if...

  • Diarrhea persists for more than five days or if you are unable to hold down any fluids. If dehydration is a problem, intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be required.
  • Blood in the stool
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • No urine production for 8 hours or more
  • Sunken appearance to the eyes


National Institutes of Health (NIH): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001298/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/faq.htm

Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/viral-gastroenteritis/DS00085