The First Aid Kit Every College Student Needs

September marks the official end of beach and pool parties, barbecues, and summer vacations. Yes, that also means it’s back-to-school time. For those who are returning to college or who will be living away from your family for the very first time, it can be a little frightening.

What if you get injured?  What if you get sick?  Who will take care of you?  Unfortunately, your newfound autonomy and independence also means that mom won’t be there to cook you that chicken noodle soup, and Dad won’t be there to clean that wound and bandage you up. You need to learn to start taking care of yourself—a great milestone into adulthood.

So, what can you do to prepare for college?  Accidents are often without warning and unpredictable.  It’s always best to prepare ahead of time. Let’s find out how to design your own college first aid kit, so that you can take charge of your own health.


What to Stock in Your College First Aid Kit

Let’s discuss it problem by problem:
1. Minor Cuts, Scrapes, and Burns: The most obvious tools may be those for superficial skin injuries. You were riding your bike across campus (with a helmet thankfully) when you stumbled over a rock, fell over, and scraped your knee. Or, you were cooking an omelet for the very first time and you didn’t realize that oil can actually splatter when you least expect it. Or, perhaps you spent a little more time gazing at that girl from Chemistry 101 while sitting outside under the September or May summer sun and burned the tip of your nose and cheeks.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Band aids of varying sizes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Gauze (for larger areas that your band aids are too small to cover)
  • First aid paper tape (to use with gauze)
  • Ice pack
  • A small first aid “how-to” book

2. Cold and Flu Syndromes:  You will be spending time with numerous others in enclosed spaces, such as classrooms, study halls, libraries, dorm rooms, and yes, perhaps even those germ infested dance clubs. So get yourself ready for cold and flu season. The first step is to acquire the knowledge to understand the differences between viruses and bacteria—this is very important.  Because viruses are often self-resolving, like the common cold and flu viruses. Bacteria are much less common.


Having this extra medical knowledge is often sufficient enough to know what to do next to help treat it. Knowledge is power (hence attending college!).

Next, in order to  help battle these often self-resolving viral syndromes, keep yourself stocked with a few cold and flu staples (AFTER you clear it with your doctor first, of course):

  • Fever and Pain Reducers:  Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are useful tools to keep around in case of fevers or pain.
  • Decongestants:  Ingredients such as “phenylephrine” (such as in Sudafed) or the stronger “pseudoephedrine” (such as in Mucinex-D which is kept behind the shelves at the pharmacy, not on the shelf) will help to open up a stuffy nose.
  • Antihistamines:  To put a stop to a runny nose due to a cold or allergies.  Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) lasts a few hours only, is more potent, but causes drowsiness.  Cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratidine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra) last 24 hours and do not cause drowsiness, although may be less potent.
  • Cough Reducers:  I go through a pack of cough drops (at the least) every time I’m struck with a virus. They help to soothe a sore throat and/or to calm a cough. Cough syrups may also help, especially with that nighttime hack.
  • Antacids:  For those of you susceptible to heartburn or acid reflux, make sure to take some TUMS, or the stronger ranitidine (Zantac), for that morning-after hangover or all-nighter caffeine study fest that also gnaws at your tummy.
  • Thermometer:  If you suspect a fever, it may be useful to keep one of these around.

3. Aches and Pains:  So you decided to wear your new four-inch designer heels across campus and your feet are regretting it … immensely. Or, perhaps all that tapping on your iPad keyboard has wreaked havoc on your wrists.  Or, maybe that new dance course you thought would be an “easy A” has done a number on your thighs. Either way, aches and pains will inevitably strike you at some point in the next four years.  What should you do?

  • Pain Reducers:  Acetaminophen (Tylenol) works well for most headaches and minor pains, but if there is an inflammatory component to your pain (like muscle strains, period cramps, and overuse injuries like carpal tunnel or tennis elbow) then ibuprofen may have that added anti-inflammatory benefit.  Take anti-inflammatories with food.
  • Ace Bandage:  Keep a medium sized ace wrap in your first aid kit in case you need a quick support band.
  • Ice Pack or Heating Pad:  Ice is useful in the early time period after an injury, or when there’s swelling; a heating pad is often useful when the ache has persisted passed the first few days.  Alternatively, there are topical concoctions that incorporate both cold and heat (like product Icy Hot) for others who benefit from both.  My motto often is “do what feels good” when it comes to this topic.

4. Allergic Reactions:  If you  suffer from seasonal allergies, chronic allergies, or have previously endured an allergic reaction to a food or product, arm yourself with some basic defenses:


  • Hydrocortisone Cream:  Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream is useful conditions like bug bites and minor itchy skin reactions. Make sure you don’t use it in areas of thin skin, like the face or genitals, before asking your doctor. And don’t use for longer than two weeks.
  • Antihistamines:  Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is essential for allergic reactions.  If you know you are allergic to a specific food or product, make sure to keep your first aid kit stocked with this.
  • EpiPen:  If you’ve ever suffered a more serious allergic reaction, your doctor may have prescribed you a life-saving device called an “EpiPen,” which you can learn more about from a previous podcast.  If you have one, never leave home without it.  Be certain it hasn’t expired, and that you remind yourself how to use it once a year.

More Quick-And-Dirty Tips:

  1. If you are sexually active, please do not forget safe sex practices.  Other than abstinence, only condoms protect you against sexually transmitted infections.
  2. If you drink alcohol, please only do so with those you trust.  Always watch your drink 100% of the time.  And never ever drink and drive.
  3. If your symptoms are persistent or are concerning in any way, remember to utilize your campus student health center. 

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.



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