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The Essential College Dorm First Aid Kit, Explained (a helpful kit that students will use)

The Essential College Dorm First Aid Kit, Explained

By Mir Kamin

So, your kid is about to go to college, and the packing list you received lists “first aid kit” as a necessary item. If you look in the stores, or online, you’ll find there is no shortage of prepackaged first aid kits out there, all ready for you to take the one-and-done road. I am here to tell you that’s a terrible idea.

Never buy the ready-made kits. Why? First of all, although I guess it saves you some time, they’re almost always more expensive than putting a kit together yourself. Second, the time savings is moot if the kit doesn’t contain what your kid needs, and most of the time, it doesn’t. It has 2 individually-wrapped doses of Advil that’ll be gone before the first week of classes wraps up, but it also has, say, those tiny steri-strips designed to hold together a deep cut (which will still be fossilizing in said kit when your grandchildren are getting ready to go to college).

No, the better solution is this: Acquire a decent-size container (I like to use a metal lunchbox, but a shoe box would work, or any sort of plastic container that you feel fits the bill) and stock it with the things you know your particular child needs/uses/will want. Buy those items on sale, and buy them in the amounts that will last them longer than the first headache. The first time they get sick or injured away from home, you want them to have the same remedies on hand you’d dole out if they were in your kitchen saying, “Mooooooom, I don’t feel good.” You’ll probably want to include some just-in-case items, too, and the only two rules I’ll give you for this exercise are as follows:

1) Sit down with your child and the kit before they leave for college, and talk through every item inside of it, no matter how they roll their eyes,
2) Also include a cheat sheet, because they’re not listening while you’re having the above conversation.

Part of the reason I like to use a metal lunchbox is because it’s sturdy and doesn’t look like anything else they’ve packed (read: they can find it easily and it will survive even if they’re careless with it), but also because I can tape the cheat sheet inside the lid (which is attached and cannot get lost; if you choose to use a shoe box, try to find one with a hinged lid so it doesn’t walk away). Click here to view the cheat sheet included in the kit I just finished making for my youngest.

Please apply standard caveats, here:

Your kid may have special medical needs/sensitivities/whatever, and I am not a doctor. (Read: If you have any questions or concerns, please consult your family doctor rather than taking my word for it. In fact, maybe consult them, regardless.) Most of these medications have a standard OTC dosage and I always include the original bottles/boxes so that the kids can see the ingredients/dosages in case of an issue or if they need to replace anything; I do not include that stuff on the cheat sheet (“2 pills” makes more sense to my kids than “400 mg”). I cannot stress enough that this is just what I do, aside from daily medications my kids may take (which we manage separately), and you may wish to handle it differently. Here’s my approach as a starting point. You can take what works and disregard what doesn’t. (Also: not everything I include in the kit is on the cheat sheet, for reasons which I assume will be obvious.)

Medication chart for first aid kit

Items Every Kit Should Have

Thermometer: Get a decent electronic thermometer (spring for the “fast read,” if you can, but do not get a forehead or in-ear model, as they’re less accurate in inexperienced hands) and check the battery before you pack it up. The battery in my son’s brand-new thermometer was dead on arrival, so I’m glad I checked! You can talk your kid through what constitutes a low fever vs. scary fever, but I mostly include this so that when they call to say they’re sick, I can ask them about their temp and respond accordingly.

Chewable antacids: Antacid tablets are good for mild stomach upset and they’re loaded with calcium. As medication goes, it’s benign, but it’s good to have around.

General oral fever reducer/pain management: I like ibuprofen for this purpose but some people prefer acetaminophen. Talk to your child and include on your cheat sheet any relevant information about these meds, like that Advil can be hard on your stomach and Tylenol can be hard on your liver.

Targeted oral pain management, if needed: Both my kids are prone to tension headaches, for which we use Excedrin or its generic equivalent. My oldest child has a lot of joint issues and so she also gets naproxen sodium in her kit, and knows when that’s a better choice. (For that matter, she also has Midol, which obviously my son does not.)

Bandages: Each kid gets a box of Band-Aids—preferably the kind where the pad contains some sort of antibacterial treatment, like these Curad ones—and a couple of hemostatic gauze packets. (Notice this is one of those not-on-the-chart items because it’s self-explanatory.)

Anti-itch treatments: I include both hydrocortisone cream and Benadryl tablets, as both my kids have a lot of allergies and (even with their various allergy meds) are prone to itchiness. If this isn’t something you tend to need/use at home, consider including a topical option, anyway. Dorms tend to be itchy places!

Sore throat/cough lozenges: This is a simple and cheap item to procure when they need it, of course, but they will be really grateful to have it on hand when the need arises, I promise.

Whatever cold meds you typically use: This is going to vary depending on what you like, and that’s fine. Also bear in mind that many cold medicines can be abused, and it’s worth a conversation with a medical professional and a dialog with your student before including the “heavy duty” stuff, here. I find the inclusion of a “get-a-decent-night’s-sleep” type of cold/flu med (as well as whatever they might want for daytime) a must-have, but my kids will be the first to tell you I have lectured them ad nauseam about the safe, occasional use of these meds. Do note that pseudoephedrine is now a behind-the-counter medicine you must be 18 to purchase, so if your freshman, like mine, is still underage, include plenty of Sudafed if they use it—they will not be able to buy more for themselves! (And if you don’t typically use that already, skip it.) We also like the put-VapoRub-on-your-feet-at-night method during cruddy colds, so I also include some of that.

Items To Strongly Consider Including

Topical pain reliever: I don’t consider myself super-crunchy, or whatever, but we really have had good results with arnica gel both for bruising and general soreness. I always make sure the kids have it.

Topical antibiotic: It’s not included on my cheat sheet because my kids keep their Neosporin in with their toiletries (did you know acne heals faster if you apply a healing agent over your zit medication?), but even treated Band-Aids may not be enough to keep infection at bay with a big cut or abrasion. A generic tube is a couple of bucks and they can smear it on anything that looks suspicious.

Probiotics: If your kid is prone to stomach issues but isn’t already using probiotics as part of their daily regimen, consider including some with instructions for use during times of tummy distress.

“Real” stomach meds: Similarly, you may want to include some Kaopectate or Pepto for the times when those chalky antacids just won’t cut it.

Microwaveable rice sock or pad: A heating pad is bulky and a hot water bottle can be messy. I sprung for a couple of cute ones from Etsy, but you can make your own with rice and a sock and presto, you have a microwaveable heating pad.

Instant cold pack: If your kid doesn’t have a fridge where you can stash a regular ice pack, consider instant cold packs for the first aid kit.

Condoms: I get that this may make you uncomfortable. I encourage you to do it anyway. Both of my kids get the “If you’re responsible enough to be having sex, you’re responsible enough to obtain your own condoms” talk, and they both get a few condoms in their kits, too. Both of them think it’s stupid that I do this. I shrug and do it anyway. (Yes, even my lesbian kid gets condoms, along with the reminder that they can be cut up and used as dental dams. Did either of us enjoy that conversation? Nope! Did it anyway.)

Plan B: Again, I realize not everyone is going to agree with me on this, and everyone is free to make their own choices. My choice is to have done some research and purchased a little stash of generic Plan B pills and my kids each have one in their first aid kits. My son will obviously never take one and I doubt my daughter will, either; the deal is that they have it, and they are free to use it themselves (in the case of my daughter) or share it, and I will replace it at any time, no questions asked.

With a little bit of time and thoughtfulness, you can put together a first aid kit for your college student that will give you both some much-needed peace of mind. Don’t be afraid! You’ve got this.

Photo source: Depositphotos/mrdoomits

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About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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