Health Library

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, junk-food–filled 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.

Bandages

These first aid must-haves come in many sizes and shapes and 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 two other bandage-related essentials: a roll of sterile gauze to hold a dressing or splint in place and an elastic Ace bandage that can be effective in decreasing swelling or lending support to joints and muscles.

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 as well as a pair of tweezers for removing splinters.

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. Aspirin is a common choice, but products containing other active ingredients, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can be equally effective. Aspirin and ibuprofen are good choices to reduce swelling. All are effective at decreasing pain.

There are some precautions, though, when choosing which over-the-counter medicine 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-inflammary drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can cause an upset stomach. To avoid this, take the NSAID with food.
  • NSAIDs can increase your risk of bleeding.
  • If you have liver or kidney disease, ask your doctor about what types and doses of pain medicines are safe for you.
  • Also, if you drink alcohol heavily, you should discuss with your doctor which pain medicines are safe for you to take. Mixing alcohol and certain over the counter pain medicines 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 such as those already mentioned will help to ease the aches and fevers associated with a cold, but nasal decongestants and cough medicines may further help alleviate a cold's most annoying symptoms.

Antihistamines

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 allergy agents.

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.

Creams

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 poisonous 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 (Zantac), famotidine (Pepcid), 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 medicines, even those sold over-the-counter, students should check labels to determine the proper dosage as well as what warnings and side effects 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 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.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.aafp.org/

Food and Drug Administration
http://www.fda.gov/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca/

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

References:

Aspirin and NSAIDS. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/aspirin-and-nsaids/. Accessed September 19, 2012.

Stocking your medicine cabinet. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics website. Available at: http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/medications/medi4758.html. Updated October 19, 2006. Accessed September 19, 2012.

Stocking your medicine cabinet: what to have and why. Texas A&M website. Available at: http://fcs.tamu.edu/health/healthhints/2009/nov/stocking-your-medicine-cabinet.pdf. Published October/November 2009. Accessed September 19, 2012.

What are NSAIDS? American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00284. Updated January 2009. Accessed September 19, 2012.



Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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