The First Aid Kit Every College Student Needs

Keep these essential items in stock in case you get injured or sick at college.

Sanaz Majd, MD
6-minute read
Episode #196

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. Read and bookmark these articles if you need a refresher later on:

·         What’s the Difference Between the Cold and Flu?

·         5 Tips to Treat the Common Cold

·         What is the Flu Virus?

·         When is a Sinus Infection Serious?

·         Antibiotic Uses and Overuse

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.


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.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.