The Well-Stocked Medicine Chest Every College Student Needs

For college freshmen, going off to school can be exciting, but it can also be stressful and physically taxing. Late-night study sessions, parties, and easily passed cold and flu viruses can be a toll on an otherwise healthy body.

So, here are health essentials for any student's medicine cabinet.


These first aid must-haves come in many sizes and shapes. A well-stocked medicine cabinet should contain a reasonable assortment of individually wrapped bandages, as well as some individually packaged sterile gauze pads.

And, when thinking bandages, do not forget 3 other bandage-related essentials: a roll of sterile gauze to hold a dressing or splint in place, a compression bandage that can be effective in decreasing swelling or lending support to joints and muscles, and medical tape to hold them in place.

First Aid Equipment

A thermometer is a must for identifying a fever. Although they come in several types and styles, a simple, inexpensive oral digital thermometer will provide quick, reliable information. You will also need a pair of scissors for cutting bandages and a pair of fine-tipped tweezers for removing splinters or ticks.

Antiseptics and Antibiotic Ointment

The importance of cleanliness, especially around a wound, cannot be overstressed. Minor wounds and their surrounding areas can be cleansed with an antiseptic that can be applied as a liquid, spray, or by towelette. Also, have antibiotic ointment to apply to a wound.

Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers

Everyone gets aches and pains, so having one or two types of all-around pain relievers is essential. Acetaminophen is good for pain and fever relief. Naproxen or ibuprofen are good choices to reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.

There are some precautions, though, when choosing which over-the-counter medication to use. Here are some important points to keep in mind:

  • If you are younger than 18, avoid using aspirin. This is especially true if you have a current or recent viral infection. This is because aspirin may increase your risk of a serious condition called Reye's syndrome.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause an upset stomach. To avoid this, take the NSAID with food.
  • NSAIDs can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • If you have liver or kidney disease, ask your doctor about what types and doses of pain medications are safe for you.
  • Also, mixing certain pain medications with alcohol, especially acetaminophen, can lead to serious health problems like liver failure.

Cold Medications

Crowded dorms and closed-in lecture halls are perfect breeding grounds for cold viruses. Pain relievers will help to ease the aches and fevers associated with a cold, but nasal decongestants and cough medications might help alleviate a cold's most annoying symptoms.


By the time they have reached college, most students know whether they are allergic to grasses, pollens, or other natural elements. But going away to school in a different part of the country presents a new environment with its own set of allergens.

A college student's medicine cabinet should contain a nonsedating antihistamine, which, in addition to relieving a stuffy nose, can also treat hives, itching, and allergic skin reactions.


Two types of creams—hydrocortisone and antifungal creams—deserve a place in any student's medicine cabinet. A 1% solution of hydrocortisone cream will not only treat insect bites and encounters with poison ivy, but it can also relieve other rashes.

And students who forget that wearing sandals in a communal shower is the best protection against athlete's foot and other minor foot infections will be thankful that they have packed antifungal cream.

Stomach Remedies

For the after-effects of late-night pig-out parties, medications such as ranitidine, famotidine, and chewable antacids to treat indigestion, heartburn, or an upset stomach should be readily available in any student's medicine cabinet. Students who know ahead of time when they are about to make some questionable dietary choices should keep on hand a product containing a long-lasting formula that can be taken up to an hour before embarking upon a culinary adventure.

Artificial Tears

The American Optometric Association (AOA) reminds college students that all-night study sessions or long hours spent in front of a computer often result in dry, tired eyes. For wearers of contact lenses, the AOA says that their medicine cabinets should contain a bottle of the rewetting solution specifically recommended for their lenses. For those students who do not wear contacts, a bottle of artificial tears can help relieve the redness and dryness of overworked eyes.

Dental Floss

A daily routine of flossing not only removes annoying food particles from between the teeth, but it is essential in promoting healthy teeth and gums. Neglecting this necessary routine can put you at risk for gum disease, which can lead to other serious health complications.

Important Precautions

Of course, before taking any medications, even those sold over-the-counter, students should check labels to determine the proper dosage, as well as what warnings, side effects, and expiration dates are associated with the product. They should also check the label or contact their doctor or pharmacist to make sure that the product will not interact with any prescription drugs, supplements, or herbal remedies they might already be taking. Students experiencing persistent symptoms or who think they may have a more serious health problem should contact a doctor right away.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Food and Drug Administration


The College of Family Physicians of Canada


Aspirin and NSAIDS. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at:
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Accessed June 23, 2016.
College medicine cabinet checklist. Healthy Women website. Available at:
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Accessed June 23, 2016.
What are NSAIDS? American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
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Updated January 2009. Accessed June 23, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 6/23/2016

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