The Best 2020 College First Aid Kit

Ten years ago, I blended my craft-loving, Girl Scout leader “always be prepared” skills with my family medicine physician experience to create a practical high school graduation gift- a college first aid kit. That first kit had basic  essentials for cuts and colds, a thermometer, an ACE wrap, and a few assorted remedies for seasonal allergies, migraines, and heartburn.  I stuck a little index card inside that had a few tips about when to use what (like Tylenol vs Advil). Each year, I added more items and instructions, as our friends’ kids began using these kits and texting me for more advice. By the time our oldest daughter left for college in 2015, the index card had evolved into a laminated 20 page booklet, and I realized it was time to expand to a full book. At the same time, I transitioned from private practice to part-time work in the urgent care department at the University of Texas in Austin. Between having our own kids (and all their friends) in college, and professionally practicing medicine on a college campus, I feel uniquely positioned to know what college students really need to be prepared.

Who knew I would time the May 2020 release of The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness with a raging pandemic? I truly hope this book helps ease a bit  of your worry as our kids head to campus. Please PAIR this handbook with a fully stocked first aid kit, including a few extras for COVID19 noted below*. Beyond  injuries and illness, this handbook also includes a ton of practical advice for the most common campus anxieties- like test anxiety, fear of public speaking, fear of using community bathrooms and dealing with dorm insomnia. Being better prepared to self-treat injuries, illnesses and anxieties (and know when you really need to be seen) can help reduce unnecessary trips to the clinic, saving time, effort, money and -especially this year- exposure to other actively ill students.

College First Aid Kit Suggested Contents:

Items marked with an asterisk* may be especially helpful with COVID19; See linked post for more details.

  • Thermometer*: Digital Oral Thermometers are the most accurate, followed by ear scan or “no-touch”
  • Pulse Oximeter* (Quickly measures your pulse and oxygen saturation level)
  • Band-Aids: Be sure to include the GOOD ones- Blister, Knuckle and Fingertip style
  • Spray Antiseptic Cleanser (such as Neosporin Wound Cleanser Foaming Liquid)
  • Tweezers
  • Cuticle scissors 
  • Ace Wraps (Buy 2- most students don’t have these, so they disappear quickly!)
  • Re-usable Ice Pack (The kind you fill with ice as needed; dorm freezer space is limited)
  • Bulb Syringe (To safely remove ear wax, extra important with increased ear bud use with remote learning)
  • Artificial Tears (Blink, Systane, or Murine (NOT the “get the red out” ones) plus a bottle of saline wash
  • Extra toothbrushes (for use & disposal after upper respiratory symptoms)
  • Allergy Medications:
    1. Non-sedating Antihistamine: Fexofenadine (Allegra) or Loratadine (Claritin) or Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
    2. Sedating Antihistamine: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
    3. Nasal Steroid (Fluticasone Propionate (Flonase) or Triamcinolone Acetonide (Nasacort)
  • Cough/Cold Medications:
    1. Decongestant: Phenylephrine (Sudafed)
    2. Expectorant: Guaifenesin (Mucinex)
    3. OTC (Over the Counter) Cough Suppressant: Dextromethorphan (DM) Liquid or capsules (Delsym liquid or any expectorant with “DM” added – Mucinex DM)
    4. Cough drops of choice
    5. Combo product liquid or capsule “night-time cough reliever” (Nyquil or Robitussin)
    6. Zinc lozenges* (Cold-Eeze)
  • Pain/Fever Relievers
    1. Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
    2. Naproxen (Aleve)
    3. Acetaminophen* (Tylenol)
    4. Aspirin
    5. Excedrin Migraine or Bayer Migraine: Combinations of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine
  • Topical Medications:
    1. 1 % Hydrocortisone Cream (Cortaid or Cortizone)
    2. Triple Antibiotic Ointment (with or without pain reliever)
    3. Aloe and Lidocaine gels (Solarcaine, Alocaine, etc.)
    4. Menthol topical pain reliever cream or patch: (such as Icy Hot or Bengay creams or Salonpas patch)
  • Stomach Medications:
    1. Antacid tablets: TUMS or Maalox (smooth dissolve)
    2. H2 Blockers: cimetidine (Tagamet HB) or ranitidine (Zantac) or famotidine* (Pepcid AC)
    3. PPI: omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid).
    4. Loperamide (Imodium)
  • Rehydration:
    1. Pedialyte powder packets (better than sports drink powders, but those work too)

If you’re making this kit for your own daughter or son, be sure to add in a copy of your Health Insurance Card (front and back) as well as their immunization record, especially noting the most recent tetanus booster. Ideally, have them take pictures of these items TODAY on their phone, and “favorite” them for easy access in emergencies!

Not sure when to use what? Test your knowledge here: College Student Health Quiz!

BOTTOM LINE: Send your student off to college with The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook and a well-stocked college first aid kit to help them take charge of their health!


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