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A First Aid Kit for College

Great Basics to Pack for Your College-Bound Teen

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Updated July 27, 2009

Thinking of packing your son or daughter a first aid kit for college? Since this might be the first time that your teen has been away from home, a good kit full of supplies is a great going back to school gift. Pack the basics, plus information on how to use the supplies and when to see someone at the campus health center.

What to Pack

First, figure out what it is you need to pack. Start with the basics for if your teen has a cut, scrape or minor burn. Consider packing:

  • Adhesive bandages in all sizes
  • Non-stick gauze - To cover larger wounds.
  • Adhesive tape - To help secure the gauze.
  • Antibiotic ointment – To prevent infections in a wound or minor burn.

For sprains, strains and other similar injuries consider:

  • Elastic bandage – To wrap and provide compression for sprains and strains.
  • Ice pack – For when an injury first occurs.
  • Warm pack or heating pad – For bringing warmth and blood flow to an older injury.

When you need medication for a headache or heartburn, it's nice to have some over-the-counter medications on hand and avoid a trip to the store. Pack:

  • Acetaminophen – Great for headaches and other aches and pains. Advise your college student not to use acetaminophen if he or she is going to be drinking alcohol. The combination of the two can cause liver damage. Alcohol and acetaminophen taken within a few hours of each other is a significant problem, but regular alcohol drinkers should avoid acetaminophen at any time.
  • Ibuprofen – Also great for headaches and particularly for pain from inflammation or swelling. Be aware that ibuprofen can be irritating to the stomach, so it's still important for your college student to avoid alcohol when using this medication.
  • Antiacids – With all of the new foods your teen will be experiencing, these are nice to have on hand.
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – Whether it's an itchy bug bite or a stuffy nose from a friend's dog, diphenhydramine is great for allergies of many kinds.
  • Cough drops/sore throat lozenges – For minor throat pain, these can be great to soothe the irritation and scratchy feeling in the throat. (Honey has also been shown to calm a cough – but that might be messy in a first aid kit!)

Some other tools are great to have in a first aid kit. Think about packing:

  • Tweezers – From removing ticks to removing splinters, tweezers are an essential part of a first aid kit.
  • Thermometer – Your student might feel hot, but is it a fever? He or she won't know without a thermometer. Get a regular oral digital thermometer, and make sure your teen knows how to use it.
  • Eye wash – If your teen gets something in his or her eye, like a chemical, dust or even irritating vapors, an eye wash is great to have on hand. Plain water can be used, but an eye wash is a nice extra. If eye wash is needed, though, a 911 call or trip to the emergency room is a good idea, or at least a followup visit to campus health services.

Not sure how to use some of the first aid supplies? About.com's Guide to First Aid can help with your first aid questions.

What to Pack It In

Now it is time to figure out what you will pack the supplies in. Any durable plastic box with a lid will do. Camping supply stores will often carry water-proof boxes that are used for camping. They are very sturdy and have a rubber gasket that will seal out any moisture. Because many first aid supplies can be ruined by water, these boxes are ideal. A clear box is also a good idea because it allows anyone to figure out what is in the box at a glance, in case of an emergency.

Don't Forget a Few Extras

It is a great idea to include a card in the first aid kit that provides some basic health information about your student in the case of an emergency. Also, add the telephone numbers that your child might need. Information to include:

  • Telephone number for your child's personal physician – If another provider needs more information on your student, that person can call your teen's personal doctor.
  • Campus health's telephone number – When your teen has a fever, most times it isn't practical to run home for care. Campus health has providers that specialize in college health and can manage many common illnesses.
  • Telephone number for your student's health insurance – What doctor or specialist can your teen see when at school? Does your student need preauthorization for a medical procedure that is needed? Call the customer care telephone line and find out what the insurance will or will not cover.

College students should also have a few other things in the first aid kit or with them at school. They need copies of their insurance card. If you've been to a new doctor or provider recently, you know you can't get seen without it. If your student has a chronic medical condition (seizures, diabetes, etc), he or she should have a medical alert bracelet or necklace. (There are even medical alert tattoos and thankfully that can't be misplaced!) Any personal medical information should be included on a card in your teen's wallet and in the first aid box. Personal medical information includes blood type, allergies to medicine, allergies to food or anything else that causes a severe reaction, physician's name and office information, any medical conditions, medications taken on a regular basis, and emergency contact information (your name and any telephone numbers you could be reached at).

Packing up a few first aid essentials is a great gift for your teen. It's also a reminder to always stay safe and a lesson in how to take care of problems while away from home. All that in one kit!

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