A well-stocked first aid kit is your first defense against minor medical accidents, whether you are at home or on the road. Filled with basic medical supplies, a first aid kit is a great tool for treating injuries such as cuts, burns, scrapes, and sprains among others.
“While your instinct might be to keep a first aid kit everywhere, filled with everything, that’s not practical,” said Jeffrey Pellegrino, Ph.D., EMT-B, an assistant professor at Kent State University and a spokesperson for the American Red Cross. Instead, Pellegrino suggests thinking about where you are going to be and what type of first aid you might need to administer.
Where to Keep a First-Aid Kit
Every home should have a first-aid kit, and it’s a good idea to keep one in your vehicle too. Consider sticking a small one in your purse or in your diaper bag as well.
To keep kids safe, store your first-aid kit in a lunch box or a tackle box (or in a pinch, a zippered bag or pouch) and be sure to put it in a place curious fingers can't reach it. Many items found in a first-aid kit can be dangerous if ingested or used improperly.
What to Put in a First-Aid Kit
So your first-aid kit isn't the size of your local drug store, the most important thing to remember is to put supplies in your kit that you can’t find anywhere else or improve upon. For example, sterile bandages are a must, Pellegrino said, because it can be hard to find things that are sterile. Latex-free gloves can be hard to improvise as well. Kitchen gloves might seem like an appropriate substitute, but they don’t help fight off microbes and could trigger latex allergies, Pellegrino said. Ice packs aren’t necessary in a home kit because you can substitute plastic bags and ice. If you carry a diaper bag, many of those materials can be used in a pinch -- diapers can be used to stop bleeding.
If kids are going to be the likely recipients of your ministrations with the first-aid kit, you should make sure that you have supplies that are appropriate for them to use, such as smaller-sized bandages and children's medications. And depending upon where you live, it's important to keep extreme conditions (such as weather) in mind, supplementing the kit with heating packs or blankets.
Building Your First-Aid Kit
While there are plenty of commercial kits available, to save money and to make sure your first aid kit is right for your family, consider making your own.
Here are the basic items to keep in a first-aid kit, as recommended by the American Red Cross:
- An American Red Cross Emergency First Aid Guide
- Non-latex, preferably Nitrile, gloves
- Assorted sizes of self adhesive bandages, sterile gauze and adhesive tape
- Wound gel or triple antibiotic ointment
- A breathing barrier
- Other items the American Red Cross suggests including:
- Low-dose (81 mg), chewable aspirin (for chest pain)
- Instant cold compress
- Roller and triangle bandages
- Hand sanitizer
- Emergency blanket
It's also a good idea to keep important phone numbers in your first-aid kit. You may swear you know the doctor's phone number by heart, but in a pinch you may not remember it. Include any primary care doctors that you may visit, the number of your hospital, police and fire departments, and the number for poison control, which is (800) 222-1222.
No matter what you keep in your first aid kit, be sure to replenish what you take out, and check the expiration dates about twice a year.
While first aid kits are important, Pellegrino, who serves as a volunteer EMT, instructor and field training officer in Ohio, also suggests training classes as well.
“It’s important to know when a band aid is not enough and to know when to call for more help,” he said. The American Red Cross offers classes, as do many community centers, libraries, and hospitals. Ask at their community education departments for schedule information.
The American Red Cross also has a free First Aid app that offers:
- Step-by-step instructions on how to handle the most common first aid situations
- Videos and animations that make skills easy to learn
- Safety and preparedness tips
- Quizzes that users can take to earn badges which they can share with their friends on social media