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Information on Common Illnesses and Diseases

At the SHC, we see over 14,000 visits each year, often addressing a handful of common conditions and diseases. If you have any questions about common issues from fatigue to rash and bronchitis, but you don't need to come into the Center, the MedlinePlus website has a wealth of information you can access online. The site offers extensive information from the National Institutes of Health and the world's largest medical library, the National Library of Medicine. Patients as well as health professionals use the site, which provides its content in both English and Spanish.

If you're wondering about a particular condition or disease, feel free to come to the SHC or explore MedlinePlus for more information.

Severe Allergies and Anaphylaxis

Over the past few years, the American University community has seen a rise in students, staff and faculty who suffer from life threatening food-induced allergic reactions and/or anaphylaxis. The prevalence here mirrors the national prevalence rates of severe food allergies which is estimated at 2.5%. Most commonly, the foods that may cause these allergic reactions are nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, wheat and soy, but almost any food can be dangerous for certain individuals. Some people also have severe allergies to non-food exposures such as bee stings, medications or latex.

If individuals have a severe allergy to any of the above, they can develop any number of symptoms. Mild to moderate symptoms can include a full body rash, abdominal pain, vomiting or headaches. However, the more worrisome severe symptoms involve swelling of the lips, mouth and throat; chest pain; low blood pressure (leading to loss of consciousness); mental confusion; or even death. Symptoms frequently appear within minutes or seconds of the exposure, though delayed symptoms can occur.

Most people with severe allergic reactions and/or anaphylaxis typically wear a medic alert bracelet to help identify them as someone who may need help if unconscious. Frequently they will also carry an EpiPen - an easily injectable form of epinephrine. In the event of a severe allergic or anaphylactic reaction, receiving this medication as soon as possible can be a lifesaving intervention. To that end, we believe that educating our community to recognize the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction and how to administer an EpiPen is an important public service.

In the event of a medical emergency on campus, it is also imperative for the community to immediately contact the American University Police Department (AUPD) at 202-885-3636. AUPD will be able to dispatch the services of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Service Department to provide an emergency medical response. If you have any questions or comments about severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis, please contact the Student Health Center at