The following items are necessities for any first-aid kit. Prepackaged kits are great for the road. You can buy inexpensive “all-purpose” kits to keep in each of your cars and in almost every room of your house!
First Things First
The items in your first aid kit belong together and must be kept in one place. Remember to put back, or replace, any items found in the kit.
But space is not an issue when you’re living at home. You can have the luxury of filling your medicine cabinet with everything you might need—in the amounts you want. You don't need the convenience of prepackaged first aid kits. You can buy all the items you need in a drugstore or supermarket. You can either keep them in a medicine cabinet or in a childproof container that's readily available in a kitchen cabinet or a closet. Be sure to store it where anyone can locate it quickly, and make sure everyone knows where it is! And, no matter what type of kit you have, make sure you place a list of emergency phone numbers inside the lid. Include numbers for your doctor, the local hospital, poison control center, and more.
In order to have a useful first aid kit, you will need to purchase the following items:
- Protective gear to prevent the spread of infection. Remember those universal guidelines? Chances are, if an accident occurs within your intimate family, you won't have to bother with gloves, goggles, aprons, and dental dams. But it's useful to have these items in your medicine cabinet just in case someone other than your intimate family has an accident in your home. And it's a good idea to put protective gear (especially latex gloves, disposable airway bags, goggles or masks, and dental dams) in your traveling kits or to add them to your prepackaged kits. It's especially important to practice safety measures if you happen to help a stranger. You don't want to transmit HIV or any other virus or disease from one person to another.
- Adhesive bandages in an assortment of sizes for any punctures, cuts, or minor scrapes. Be sure to buy bandages that are sterile and come individually wrapped.
- Sterile gauze pads that are individually wrapped may be useful for larger cuts, profuse bleeding, burns, and infections.
- A roll of adhesive surgical tape will come in handy when using gauze pads. You will need the tape to secure the cotton pad to the laceration. First aid adhesive tape is great for wounds that need to be sealed from infection. This tape is extremely sticky, anyone who has ever yanked off a taped bandage knows that it can be a painful experience. Clear tape will stretch with the body; it is especially effective when waterproofing is necessary. Paper tape is best for individuals with sensitive skin, or if the dressings need to be frequently changed. If you want a recommendation, use cloth tape. It keeps a gauze bandage secured without the irritation or discomfort of the other adhesive tapes.
- Scissors may be necessary to cut tape, clothing, or bandages in emergency situations. Surgical scissors will cut tape cleanly and quickly, but any good scissors will do in an emergency. (Avoid “kiddie scissors” if possible; they're meant for cutting out paper dolls and designs.)
- Elastic bandages, or Ace bandages (the common brand name), with clips may be used for sprains and twists.
- Sterile cotton balls for applying ointments and antiseptics, as well as a sterile cloth for washing and dressing cuts and abrasions.
- Tweezers for removing any foreign objects from a cut or for splinters. Although needles are only good for splinters, they can sometimes get out a small foreign object better. So keep one on hand in your first aid cabinet.
- Matches can be a useful addition to your medicine cabinet's first aid section. In an emergency, a flame will sterilize needles and tweezers. Just make sure you keep the pack out of the reach of tiny curious hands!
- Rubbing alcohol can be used to clean utensils in your first aid kit, and it very effectively cleans cuts, scrapes, and minor wounds. Antibacterial antiseptic lotions and ointments should be added to your homemade kit as well. Bacitracin or Johnson's & Johnson's First Aid Cream are good all-around ointments that will prevent infections on scraped knees, cuts, and wounds. They also make excellent dressings.
- Oral and rectal thermometers are important (and petroleum jelly for the rectal thermometer). Fever can be a sign of shock, poisoning, or infection. It's always good to gauge a sick person's temperature to know how to proceed.
- Calamine lotion for insect bites and hives. This lotion is used to relieve itching and scratching. It also contains a healing agent which is especially useful for poison ivy.
- Antihistamine tablets are good to have handy in case of an allergic reaction, an attack of the sneezes and sniffles, a sinus problem, or a migraine headache (all signs of allergic reactions to pollen or dust). Benadryl is a good antihistamine, and it even comes in a cream to treat superficial allergic reactions, such as rashes and hives.
- Mineral oil and Q-tips to remove ticks on the skin and foreign objects from ears. Simply dab a little oil on the Q-tip and gently touch the area in question.
- Sterile eye wash for eye injuries.
- Syrup of Ipecac, which will induce vomiting in case of poisoning. Available in any drugstore, Syrup of Ipecac’s sole purpose is for inducing the vomiting reflex. The syrup is made from a South American root and does not require a prescription to purchase. Only use Syrup of Ipecac if you know exactly what an injured person swallowed. Vomiting can worsen symptoms of some poisons, such as petroleum and corrosive chemical products. To be absolutely certain whether to induce vomiting or not, call your local poison center immediately.
- A bar of soap or a container of antibacterial liquid soap to clean wounds and your own hands. Sealed “wet naps” also work well.
- An ice pack to reduce swelling, to cool a victim, or to reduce fever. (Many companies now make “instant” ice packs that do not need to be chilled. Chemicals keep them cold so you can store them in a first aid kit.)
- A flashlight. Be sure to check the flashlight batteries frequently. Flares need to be kept in the car or boat to alert passers-by of an emergency condition. Flares not only prevent unforeseen collisions in the dark, they force other drivers to slow down (and someone might just offer help or the emergency phone call you desperately need).
- Medicine for diarrhea such as Pepto-Bismol, Immodium AD, or Mylanta.
- Aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil) tablets to relieve pain and reduce fever. Remember that some people are allergic to aspirin, and some have bleeding or stomach problems that aspirin can make worse. When in doubt, opt for the Tylenol or Advil. NEVER give aspirin for a fever to children under 18 years of age; they are particularly susceptible to Reye's syndrome, a form of brain damage that can occur when aspirin is taken for a fever. Instead, give your kids Tylenol for Children, or Pediaprofen (a child's version of ibuprofen). Ditto for pregnant moms!
- Large, triangular pieces of cloth (scarves) for makeshift slings, splints, and tourniquets.
First Things First
Individualize your first aid kit to fit your family's needs. If someone is asthmatic, add an inhalator. If someone is allergic to bee stings, add an anaphylaxis (bee sting antidote) kit. If someone is diabetic, make sure you have insulin at hand.
Before You Put the Band-Aid On
Sterile and germ-free are crucial words when finding supplies to treat wounds. The sterile products need to be used in order to avoid infection. Bandages and cotton balls are purchased sterile. But when using your own medical “tools,” you must be able to sterilize them after each use. You can do this by lighting a match and moving the instrument back and forth through the flame. Just don&'t forget to add a pack of matches to your first aid kit! Alcohol and peroxide can also be used for sterilization.
Histamines are chemicals produced by mast cells—fat, chubby cells that are found in our skin. These chemicals are inflammatory, causing itching and burning. Antihistamine medications actually neutralize the histamines in the mast cells, which stops the itching.