How to Make a College Dorm First Aid Kit

As your teen heads off to college, you can be sure there will be minor mishaps in the dorm environment: falls, burns, scrapes, fevers, hangovers — I mean headaches. (You know, from all that studying.)

Set your college student up for success by assembling a first-rate first aid kit for the college dorm room. Sure, at first he may balk, but consider this to be another way of taking care of him. Better yet, you’re helping him take care of himself.

Whereas regular first aid kits tend to focus simply on medical emergencies, a dorm first aid kit goes one step further. It should additionally anticipate common non-emergency conditions like allergies, heartburn, and diarrhea/stomach upset.

While standard first aid kits are often inexpensive, they are not tailored to the unique needs of college students. This will be your young adult’s medicine cabinet while away from home. Equip him or her well!

Include medications that anticipate the common types of situations your college student might face. Consider that he may need to use items from the kit to occasionally help roommates, friends, and visitors to the dorm.

Include enough supplies for at least a semester away from home. Here is a list of common medications to include (see table below).

Aspirin has an important first aid role in emergency treatment for heart attacks and certain types of strokes, so when it comes to pain relievers, you may want to provide it in addition to any other pain reliever you prefer.1

Depending on what your student is taking pain reliever for (e.g., headache, cold/flu, an injury involving swelling), he should know that taking acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) does not reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen also may involve rare but severe health risks if taken at high doses.

Also, make sure your college student understands that mixing alcohol with any over-the-counter pain relievers — acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin — can increase the risk of liver damage, a rare but serious side effect.2,3

Add other items to help with treating wounds and assisting with sick care and comfort.

As long as tools don’t seem to need the instructions that came with their packaging, you may want to discard their outer packaging to conserve space in the dorm first aid kit. This also saves your student time opening the item at the moment it is needed. Examples of when to discard packaging: tweezers, scissors, and cloth tape.

Since a kit does little good if you cannot find what you are looking for, consider using small Ziploc bags to keep similar items organized together. Also use them to keep items such as cotton balls and cotton swabs clean.

Useful tools include:

Assemble supplies that reduce germs and the chance of contamination. Since some people have serious latex allergies, consider latex-free nitrile gloves. Store several pair together in a Ziploc bag.

Alcohol or hydrogen peroxide will come in handy for cleaning used tools before putting them back in the kit (e.g., tweezers, the thermometer). Supplies to promote cleanliness include:

Locate a clean box to contain first aid supplies. Ideally, the box should be “emergency red.” It must be easily noticed in a dorm room that could be messy.

Ideas for boxes include an inexpensive toolbox, tackle box, or a plastic storage container with a lid. You could also wrap a shoe box in red wrapping paper. (Individually wrap the bottom and top, of course.)

In the bottom of the box, place the following:

  • a master list of first aid kit items.You — or your responsible young son or daughter — will need to check the kit’s contents periodically for replenishing.

Next, add supplies to your box, and label it “FIRST AID.” Then, attach an index card to the inside lid. The card should feature this information:

  • a list of important numbers (e.g., Poison Control, Campus Health Service, University Police, your Emergency Contact Information).
  • known allergies or other important medical information for each roommate, if available.

If room permits, you may also want to add a personal touch to the dorm first aid kit by including a copy of a photo of your child when he was younger. Perhaps he broke his arm when he was 12 years old or she had a memorable bicycle accident when she was 8? Do you have a photo to pair with some encouraging words?

A first aid kit that reminds your child where she’s been and how much she is loved — a first aid kit that is customized to her needs and the dorm environment by the person who know her best — is surely one that will set her up for success. No standard store-purchased kit can do that.


1Thai, MD, Khanh. “Aspirin: Heart-attack first aid.” The Delaware Gazette. Last modified October 27, 2011.

2George, Shannon. “Advil And Alcohol Effects On The Liver.” LIVESTRONG.COM. Last modified May 17, 2011.

3MedicineNet. “ACETAMINOPHEN – ORAL (Panadol, Tylenol) side effects, medical uses, and drug interactions.” Accessed April 6, 2013.