The Well-Stocked Medicine Chest Every College Student Needs

Going off to college can be exciting, but it can also be stressful and taxing. Late-night study sessions, parties, and easily passed cold and flu viruses are common on campuses. A well-stocked medicine cabinet can help ease the impact.


Look for packages with many size and shape bandages. It can help to protect tricky spots like fingers or toes. Some bandages are also water and sweat proof. You may also want to keep a bottle of liquid bandage on hand. The liquid forms a seal over small wounds. It is water proof and can last for a few days.

You should also have bandages for emergencies. Gauze pads, rolls, and tape can help with larger wounds. An elastic bandage can also help with joint or muscle problems.

First Aid Tools

Small first aid kits can be found in many stores. They should include at least:

  • A pair of scissors for cutting bandages
  • A pair of fine-tipped tweezers to remove splinters or ticks
  • Gauze pads and bandages
  • Cloth that can be used as sling

Some kits will also include creams to clean cuts or soothe burns. Look for ones that suit your needs.

Antiseptics and Antibiotic Ointment

Minor wounds should be cleaned well. It can help to stop infection. Antiseptic cleaners may be a liquid, spray, or towelette. An antibiotic ointment can also be put on the wound after cleaning.

Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers

There are many types of pain medicine with many names. Look for the ingredient on the label. Pain medicine are often one of the following:

  • Acetaminophen—good for pain and fever relief
  • Naproxen—to treat fever, pain, and inflammation (often 12 hours doses)
  • Ibuprofen—to treat fever, pain, and inflammation.

You may like one type over some other. There are some things to think about when choosing:

  • If you are younger than 18, avoid aspirin. This is very important if you are or were recently sick from a virus. Aspirin can cause a severe illness called Reye's syndrome. The risk is higher with a viral illness.
  • Medicine called NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause an upset stomach. Take NSAIDs with food to ease stomach problems.
  • NSAIDs can increase your risk of bleeding in belly.
  • Medicine can be hard on liver or kidneys. Ask you doctor which medicine is safe if you have liver or kidney disease.
  • Medicine can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol. Avoid alcohol after taking these medicines.

Cold Medications

Crowded dorms and lecture halls make it easy for colds and flus to spread. Pain medicine will help to ease the aches and fevers. Decongestants and cough medicine may also help to ease pain. Carefully read labels to see what may work best for each need. Many cold medicines have more than 1 drug. They may be more medicine than you need.


Going to school in a different part of the country may bring new allergies.

There are many forms of antihistamine. Some have fast help but can make you sleepy. Others can be taken daily and do not cause drowsiness. Creams may be put on the skin to help with rashes or itching. It may help to have both available when needed.

Skin Help

Two types of creams are good to have handy for skin problems:

  • Hydrocortisone—to soothe irritation caused by insect bites or rashes from contact with irritant like poison ivy
  • Antifungal creams—to treat athlete's foot or jock itch

Stomach Remedies

Indigestion, heartburn, or an upset stomach are common on a dorm diet. Liquid medicine or chew tablets can help to ease discomfort. It is better to have them within quick reach when problems begin.

Artificial Tears

Long nights and hours of computer work can leave eyes dry and irritated. Eye drops can give some relief. Artificial tears can help to ease redness and dryness of all eyes. Contact wearers should have rewetting drops to rehydrate their lenses.

Other Tools

A thermometer is needed to check or track fever. There are many types. A simple, low cost digital thermometer will work well.

Floss is an important part of gum and tooth care. Keeping floss handy will serve as a reminder to get it done.

Important Precautions

Labels should always be checked to understand the right dose. It is also important to know what side effects may happen and to stop the medicine if they do occur. Those that take prescription medicine should talk to a pharmacist or their doctor before taking other medicine. If symptoms continue longer than they should contact your doctor.


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:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 2009. Accessed June 23, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 12/4/2019

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