Dorm Ideas: OTC Medicines You Can’t Live Without


Studies show that stress and lack of sleep can cause weakening of the immune system. Our list of affordable OTC medicines offer quick relief to common college aches and pains.

Between class, more class and the occasional night out, it’s easy to forget that you’re susceptible to fevers, headaches and stomach bugs in college. Luckily, you can put together a dorm essentials OTC medicine cabinet for less than $50 dollars. Keep it stocked all semester and you’ll be ready to take on ailments from the common cold to sleeplessness before symptoms get in the way of your schoolwork.

OTC medicine best for nighttime cold & flu relief


This store brand OTC medicine offers name brand relief for about $7 per 12-oz. bottle.

CVS Multi-Symptom Nighttime Cold/Flu Relief Liquid  (96/100 based on 10 reviews) is the highest ranked cold and flu medicine on Viewpoints, beating out Vicks Nyquil Cold & Flui Relief Liquid Medicine by six points. It also runs about $4 cheaper, making it an easy top choice for liquid nighttime coughing, congestion and sore throat relief. Many reviewers reported that it also helped them sleep better than other brands of nighttime cold medicine.

“[CVS has] a duplicate of NyQuil medicine which looks very similar, and tastes similar too. The active ingredients are identical and the inactive ingredients are also the same. The flavor is nice- but for some reason the CVS version does not taste as sickening sweet as NyQuil does. The performance of the CVS version was just as good as NyQuil.” - Caprig, Reviewer since 2008

“CVS Multi-Symptom Nighttime Cold/Flu Relief is the CVS equivalent to NyQuil. It provides the same relief at a lower cost, which is a huge plus. If you’re looking for the effects of NyQuil at a lower cost I definately suggest that you try CVS Multi-Symptom Nighttime Cold/Flu Relief.” - JazzSinger, Reviewer since 2007

Daytime cold & flu relief


You must be 18 or older to buy this medicine (pseudoephedrine is one of its main ingredients).

If staying in bed while you’ve got a cough or sore throat isn’t an option, try Aleve-D Sinus & Cold Multi-Symptom Caplets (93/100 based on 42 reviews). For about $10, you get 20 12-hour relief capsules that reviewers agree don’t cause drowsiness.

“I don’t like to take medicine if I am at home resting trying to get better, but sometimes you just have to go out, to go to work, etc. Aleve D Sinus and Cold helps me to be able to do that. It stops the runny nose dead in its tracks (really!), clears up my congestion, and makes me feel less achey and less exhausted.”  - star18, Reviewer since 2010

“I swear by Aleve[-D] Cold & Sinus – it has an anti-inflammatory component that helps reduce swelling in the vocal cords, and also helps dry up the mucous. It does not leave me feeling too dry or loopy, which so many antihistamines do. Plus, the effects last for many more hours than other medicines, so I can take less of it.” - theatrdiva, Reviewer since 2011

Best for migraines/headaches


Some reviewers point out that one of the active ingredients in this medicine is caffeine and that it shouldn’t be taken right before bed.

Excedrin Tension Headache (95/100 based on 30 Reviews) costs about $11 and offers fast acting relief for headaches including sinus headaches and migraines.

“I have suffered from headaches most of my adult life.  Excedrin Tension Headache caplets have worked wonders for me! Every other pain reliever I have tried has just dulled the pain, not completely gotten rid of it. Excedrin Tension Headache is the first non-prescription medication I have tried that has worked completely, and worked fast.” - teenymarie, Reviewer since 2009

“While working a highly demanding job, headaches were simply an expected part of my day. I learned to persevere through the dizziness, the throbbing, the inconvenience of a headache. Then I discovered Excedrin Tension Headache. The effectivenes of this medication is amazing! It seems to begin working immediately and within minutes, the symptoms of my headache are greatly diminished.” - bjoyful, Reviewer since 2010

Best for stomach bugs/upset stomachs


For reviewers who don’t mind the pink peppermint flavor, Pepto-bismol is a great way to  treat five symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort.

While it may not have the highest digestion medicine rating on Viewpoints, Pepto-bismol (87/100 based on 90 reviews) is a must-have for any dorm room medicine cabinet. Unlike other digestion medications that treat only one discomfort at a time, Pepto-bismol treats five symptoms: naseau, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach and diarrhea. And at only about $5 for a 16 oz. bottle, you’ll save money by buying a single upset-stomach cure-all.

“Pepto bismol original works well to calm an upset stomach. There are so many times when you do not quite know what is the issue with your stomach and you know that it could be one of many things going on.” - mamalaur2, Reviewer since 2011

“This is a great product in my opinion for diarrhea or acid refux, heartburn, nausea or indigestion. The flavor is a bit chalky, and it doesn’t have a great aftertaste, but the main thing is that it seems to work very well. I keep it around the house just in case I need it, you never know when you might. All in all, a solid product.” - mystery250, Reviewer since 2010

Best sleep aid

This natural sleep aid is available in many chain pharmacies.

This natural sleep aid is available in many chain pharmacies.

Sleeplessness can be caused by stress, too much caffeine or not enough exercise and even shifting schedules. At a time when your life is in constant flux, getting sleep is especially important and especially difficult. Nature’s Bounty Melatonin (90/100 based on 24 reviews) costs around $6, is all natural and non-addictive. While the reviewers were generally positive, some users mention that Melatonin is a hit or miss sleep aid.

“[I] had tried the over the counter sleep aids and they worked, but they also made it hard to wake up in the morning.[Melatonin] works relatively quickly and allows you to drift off into a relaxing, peaceful sleep. I usually wake up several times a night, but when I take Melatonin, I sleep soundly and wake up feeling completely refreshed.” - apeemay, Reviewer since 2010

“This product really helps with those times I can’t sleep. Caveat: One pill may not work for you. You will have to experiment. For myself, I’ve found I need 3 pills (a total of 15mg) to really get full benefit of sleeping through the night.” - mindbuilder1211, Reviewer since 2009 

Planning ahead is the best preventative medicine


Keeping your dorm medicine cabinet stocked isn’t expensive. By purchasing the right OTC medicines, you can stay on top of your health and your budget.

Instead of ignoring signs of fever, fatigue or illness, tackle the problem before it starts with the OTC medicine in this article, or by stopping your school’s Health Services. You can’t ignore illness until they go away — save that mental energy for last-minute essay writing.

Amber Rambharose is a writing intern at Viewpoints. She just graduated from Hollins University with a B.A. in English Literature and will be continuing her studies this fall at the University of Cincinnati.

Amber Rambharose Amber Rambharose (50 Posts)

Amber Rambharose is a former writing intern at Viewpoints. She graduated from Hollins University with a B.A. in English Literature and is continuing her studies at the University of Cincinnati.

  • Alyce Huntsinger

    the Excedrin migraine has caffeine so may be cheaper to get tylenol and a good strong cup of coffee. Pepto bismol is good but don’t be worried if your tongue turns black, it is the bismuth. The black color is safe but can be scary if you aren’t prepared

    • Amber Rambharose


      Thanks for the tip about Pepto bismol! As a college student, I would certainly be worried if my tongue turned black (especially if I was already feeling under the weather.