Written by Joanna Hughes

Many first-time college students revel at the thought of the freedom they’ll experience while away at university. However, there’s an oft-overlooked downside to that independence: Living on your own doesn’t just mean reveling in the highs, but also coping with the lows. In this case, we’re talking about handling life’s little emergencies which may arise in the form of everything from headaches (and hangovers) to scrapes, burns and fevers. When your parents are not there to help care for you, you have to learn to care for yourself, and preparing your own college first aid kid is a smart first step.

 

1. Band-Aids and Antibiotic Ointment
While your medicine cabinet back home may contain a seemingly endless supply of band-aids in all shapes, colors and sizes, it can be surprisingly hard to lay hands on one in college when you get a paper cut or other minor skin injury. Avoid a panicked scramble by stocking up on a variety of band-aids. (We recommend cloth-based adhesive styles, which hold up well in water.)

While band-aids protect cuts, scrapes and burns, antibiotic ointments offers important partnership in the defense against bacterial infections. Look for bandages with antibiotic ointment already built in for a two-in-one solution.

 

2. Gauze
First aid gauze is remarkably versatile and can serve a variety of purposes for accident-prone college students. Whether you need to bandage a larger wound, slow bleeding, or absorb excess blood, this cheap, lightweight, porous material is your answer.

Other added benefits of gauze? Because it’s not sticky, it’s not painful to remove, while its shapeability also means it’s ideal for bandaging difficult-to-access areas, such as armpits, joint areas, and behind the ears.

 

3. Instant Ice and Heat Pack
Aches and pains caused by everything from trips and spills to overzealous exercising are facts of life, but there are a few simple ways to accelerate your recovery. At the top of that lice? Ice and heat therapies.

Depending on the specifics of the situation, ice and heat can do everything from reduce swelling to alleviate pain. One rule of thumb for knowing which to use when? According to PainScience, “Ice is for injuries, and heat is for muscles.” So you goal is to reduce swelling following an acute injury such a pulled muscle or sprained ankle, cold is likely to offer the most relief. For chronic injuries, stress, and muscle pain, meanwhile, heat is a soothing solution.

And while keeping an ice pack in the freezer at all times may be asking a lot of college students -- particularly those without freezers and microwaves in their dorm rooms -- instant ice and heat packs are fast, efficient and easy.

 

4. Tweezers and Alcohol Wipes
Anyone who’s ever had a splinter knows that while they’re small in size, they’re large in pain. And while removing a splinter isn’t exactly a picnic, tending to it immediately can quickly minimize the pain and risk of infection while getting you back on your feet. Tweezers are also useful for removing everything from ticks to bee stingers. Just make sure to sterilize the tips before each use.

 

5. Cold, Flu and Fever Medications
Busy schedules, stress, tight living spaces, and lack of sleep add up to a perfect storm of potential sickness for college students. Having decongestants, antihistamines, and fever and pain reducers on hand can help ensure that you’re clear-headed and runny nose-free when staying in bed for a week isn’t an option.

Not to mention that college students have their fair share of headaches from hitting both the books and the beverages too hard. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help you bounce back.

 

6. A Thermometer
Your mom could tell if you had a fever just by resting the back of her hand against your forehead, but you may not yet have those superpowers. Why wait hours at the health clinic just to have your temperature taken when you can just do it yourself? When buying a thermometer, keep in mind that the American Red Cross recommends digital thermometers instead of glass models.

Just remember that while fevers usually go away on their own, you may end up needing to go to the clinic after all: The Mayo Clinic suggests consulting with a healthcare professional if your temperature reaches 103 F or higher.

Whether you’re planning on going to medical school or mere mention of the word blood makes you light-headed, the ability to care for yourself when you’re sick or following a minor mishap is part of becoming an adult. Get a jumpstart on the process by proactively preparing a first-aid kit for your college dorm room. And if you're heading abroad, make sure you know how to stay safe and healthy while you're away.

ArticleStudent Tips
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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