Now everyone is different, and most of you will have a few other things you need to bring for your medical needs, but this is a good place to start. I made a short list for you of common ailments that you probably will have at one point or another along with over the counter medications you might want to use for them. Now that you will be in charge of your health, you need to know how to use these medications safely and also a few things to watch out for that might mean you should go stop in to student health. To help you with your list when you get done reading this, I highlighted everything in GREEN that you should bring with you.
Before we start here’s the usual reminder – this post (and nothing on this website) is a substitute for medical care and the advice of a Doc or Nurse who knows you and your medical history well. But that said, here’s a list of what to bring and how most people should take them:
Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol®. Key things to remember, pay close attention to the dose on the bottle. You probably will be taking 325 mg of a regular pill, or if it is extra strength, you will be taking 500 mg. The maximum amount most people should take at once is 1000 mg (3 regular strength, 2 extra strength pills) and a total amount over 24 hours of no more than 2000 mg or 2 grams. For example, don’t take more than 2 extra strength acetaminophen every 12 hours. And this is not a good thing to have (take my word for it).
Ibuprofen, which is what Motrin® is made of, is in the NSAID family. These medicines are good for pain and inflammation. They can irritate your stomach, so if you take these, take them with some food in your stomach, or with an antacid or acid blocker. These medications also have a maximum dose so look at that bottle. Generally, I recommend no more than 600 mg every 6 hours for a maximum of 2400 mg a day. Usually ibuprofen pills are 200 mg, so that means no more than 3 pills every 6 hours. Most people get good relief with a lot less (like only 1 pill every 6 hours), but I don’t want teens to take too much since these too can hurt your kidneys and liver at high doses over a long time.
A few things to watch out for:
- Hangover – now a lot of college students suck down acetaminophen (Tylenol®) after a night of partying when they wake up with a wicked hangover. Remember how too much acetaminophen can cause liver failure? Well, a lot of alcohol is not kind to your liver either, so be extra, EXTRA careful with your Tylenol® doses after a night of drinking. (Liver failure is an ICU, potentially deadly thing – not a joke).
- Meningitis – most headaches are run of the mill things caused by stress, fatigue, periods, etc. They will usually feel to you the same way as other headaches have in the past. If you have a headache and a fever, you should think about meningitis. Usual symptoms are fever, headache, a really stiff neck (like you cannot bend it stiff), being confused, having a hard time waking up or being woken up, feeling sick to your stomach or vomiting, and really being bothered by light shining in your eyes. You might get a rash. You can get really over a few hours, or over a few days. If you are worried you have meningitis, it is always better to get to a doctor sooner than later to get checked out.
Problem: Upset Stomach / Acid stomach
What to watch out for:
Fever? Bloody diarrhea? Feeling really ill? Dizzy? Time to go to student health.
Problem: Cold / Runny Nose?
So, the best thing is is to take medicines to treat the ssymptoms you have and only those:
- Stuffy? Pseudoephedrine works best and is safer than phenylephrine. Pseudoephedrine is usually available behind the pharmacy counter (you just have to ask for it, there is no prescription needed) but phenylephrine is in the cold aisle.
- Cough? Dextromethorphan (DM) is really good to suppress coughs. Basically you do need to get than junk out, so don’t quiet the cough at times it doesn’t really bother you. Plain old guaifenesin thins mucus but does nothing to stop a cough. Many cough syrups have both and that is fine, but if you really need to quiet that cough, make sure there is DM in it.
- Runny? Antihistamines (diphenhydramine or Benadryl® stop the running nose by drying you up. They can make you really, really sleepy, so you may only want to take these at night or take them in a nighttime cold remedy.
- Acetaminophen problem – remember we talked about 2000 mg in 24 hours is the max dose generally recommended to protect that liver? Be careful taking multi-symptom cold medicines with additional pills of Tylenol® (acetaminophen). Watch the doses, and do the math. You can quickly put your liver at risk.
Problem: Athlete’s foot
This is why you should wear those flip flops to the shower! And keep your feet clean and dry.
Problem: Cut looking infected
What to watch out for:
If there is redness that is spreading away from the cut, or you see streaks of red going away from the area, or if it is really painful, and you have a fever, get to student health!
This happens. Have a gentle stool (aka poop) softener on hand like docusate (Colace®). This is a better way to go than using a laxative. Your intestines can get dependent on laxatives and “forget” how to poop on their own. A stool softener just helps soften poop up to make the normal contractions of your intestines have an easier job. You can take a few pills a day to get things moving, then back off, and then stop when you are back to normal. Dosing is on the bottle. Prevention? Water, fiber and exercise.
Problem: Seasonal Allergies
Problem: Itchy rash
A gentle steroid cream (like hydrocortisone) can give you a lot of relief.
What to watch out for:
- Generally steroid creams shouldn’t be used on your face – there are exceptions to this but your doctor can help you figure that out.
- If the itchy rash gets worse instead of better, you might actually have a fungal infection that needs the antifungal cream. Same ones we talked about for athlete’s foot are good.
Shifting gears - how NOT to have a problem
- Birth control: Decide what kind of birth control you want to use and make sure you have it. Condoms alone are better than nothing, but they have a pretty high failure rate to prevent pregnancy if they aren’t used properly (more info HERE).
- Condoms: Bring these. Just in case. Condoms can help prevent STDs and pregnancy. But one thing – with condoms, bring lubricant (you know – good old KY®). Why? Friction during sex without enough moisture will make that condom rip. And a ripped condom lets sperm and germs get into your partner.
- Plan B: Best to have on hand in case the condom rips or you went ahead, assumed you had time to collect what you needed once you got to school, but met who you are sure will be the LOVE OF YOUR LIFE in orientation and got swept away. Babies are great, at the right time in your life. More HERE on Plan B.
And a few final tips:
This is really important - remember to bring your regular prescriptions if you have any.
One final thing – when you get to campus, figure out where you go for medical help- where is student health, or if you need to see a specialist when you get there for a chronic medical condition, figure out who that might be. Never a good idea to wait until you have an emergency, or even just an urgency to figure out where to go. Remember to bring a copy of your insurance card too if your home medical insurance is covering you.
That’s it! Good luck, Freshmen! And, upper classmen – anything I forgot that you wish YOU had in your dorm room when you got to College?