First Aid

First Aid Kits Facts

  • Some people try their best to assist someone in need of first aid, even if they don't have the knowledge. However, often a person fears they will make a mistake if they try to help a victim, thus paralyzing them into inaction.
  • The first step in first aid is wanting to help. Whether it is reading a pamphlet or taking a first aid course offered by the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, YMCA, local school or hospital, there are places that teach first aid basics that will last a lifetime and possibly save a life.
  • While some people have access to almost immediate medical care, there is much that can be done to help ourselves, our families, and our neighbors by being able to intervene in the first few minutes of an injury or illness to make a difference in the lives of the people around us.
  • An example involves an individual who collapses in cardiac arrest or an obstructed airway. Medical technology in hospitals and doctors' offices can save lives. However, the care provided by bystanders using basic CPR guidelines often makes the difference in whether or not the person survives.
  • People who have friends and relatives with diabetes should be able to recognize signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), in which the individual becomes confused, lethargic or comatose. Treatment can be as easy as helping them drink some sugary fluid or giving them an injection that causes a rise in blood sugar.
  • Ideally everybody should have the ability to provide initial treatment for cuts, lacerations, burns, broken bones, sprains and strains, or a knocked-out tooth.

Basic First Aid Kit

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is now easier than ever before. If a person is found unresponsive, not breathing, and without a pulse, there are just a few steps a person can help to assist the victim.

  • First, send somebody to call for help (dial 911 or activate an emergency response system and get an automated external defibrillator if available),
  • Next start pushing hard and fast on the chest (keep the beat with the Bee Gees' song Staying Alive). No need to perform mouth-to-mouth breathing. No need to count. Just continue to push hard and fast on the chest until an AED is found or other help arrives. This is a great video with actor Ken Jeong and the American Heart Association providing instructions on how to perform hands free CPR.

First aid involves more than cardiac emergencies. Other first aid emergencies include choking, burns, broken bones, and cuts that bleed. Most first aid techniques are common sense, and the mantra when faced with a medical crisis is "take your own pulse first." It is important to try to remain calm and think of what should be done to help the victim. If the person who is available to help cannot control their emotions, the victim may suffer.

First Aid Pictures Slideshow: 8 First Aid Essentials for Car or Purse

How to Recognize an Emergency and What to Do

By definition, emergencies happen unexpectedly. They are not planned nor are they welcomed. It is important to have a little preparation to know what to do should a life threatening situation occur.

Calling 911: Most of the United States uses 911 as an emergency code, but it's important that if you are using a cell phone that it is capable of notifying the 911 dispatch center about your location. Most do, but some don't.

Some other emergency considerations are as follows:

  • Injury victims: Most injury victims should not be moved unless they are in danger of becoming more injured, for example from a burning car or submerged in a lake or river. It is often best to keep the victim warm in the same position that they are found in case there is potential for a spinal cord injury. A fully intact person can be paralyzed if they are moved inappropriately. Most broken bones are painful and need emergent care.
  • Overdose victims: Whether accidental or intentional, making the victim vomit is no longer recommended. It is important to get medical advice because even over-the-counter medications can be lethal if too much is ingested. Intentional overdoses should always be considered a medical emergency.
  • Stroke and heart attack: These two medical emergencies are very time sensitive because both involve important organs that have lost their blood supply. Time is of the essence in these emergencies, and chest pain and stroke symptoms are true emergencies.
  • Passing out and unconsciousness: It is not normal to be unconscious, and while there are many easy explanations, the situation may be life-threatening. If a person passes out or is unconscious, seek medical care immediately. Often, a young person will drink and/or ingest drugs and will pass out. Friends of the victim are often afraid to seek medical care for fear of "getting in trouble." Many young lives could be saved if friends of a person passed out from drugs or alcohol had gotten the victim medical care emergency.

When to Go to Urgent Care or Emergency Department

The world has become a confusing place when it comes to accessing medical care. Not every hospital has the same capabilities, and some walk in clinics or urgent care centers are able to care for almost any illness or injury while others cannot. Since emergencies and urgencies aren't planned, it is helpful to know what might be available nearby.

The first place to start is with your primary care physician. They will be able to help construct a plan should an emergency occur. Sometimes they are available to give advice at the time of an injury or illness, and they may be able to see the patient immediately. It's always nice being seen by somebody you know. However, if that is not the case, there are some important things to know before an emergency occurs.

  • Know where the closest hospital is located. Find out its capabilities and whether they match your needs. Your health care professional may be a good resource to ask.
  • There is not necessarily one best hospital. In larger cities, pediatric hospitals may be able to provide some services to children that a general hospital may not have available. There are chest pain designated centers, stroke centers, and trauma centers. However, your closest hospital might be the best to begin with.

Urgent care centers may be freestanding or affiliated with a hospital system. They may or may not be on a hospital campus and are often located in retail, office, or freestanding buildings. Each will have different capabilities and may be staffed with physicians of varying degrees of training, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants. They may have full laboratory, X-ray and CT scanning machines, or minimal diagnostic tests available.

Convenience care or retail clinics are often located in grocery stores or pharmacies and are staffed by experienced nurses who are capable of diagnosing and treating minor ailments like colds, sore throats, and urinary tract infections. If your symptoms and signs require you to get undressed to be examined, this is perhaps not the best place to get care.

Unless you are visiting a hospital that has routinely cared for you and your family, it is important to always carry a list of your medical conditions, a list of your medications, and any allergies.

While travelling, it is wise to have the phone number and address of your primary care physician and your local hospital. Medical records are routinely faxed between hospitals to allow for quality care. It is also advisable to research ahead of time the type of medical care provided where you will be traveling. Hospitals vary from state to state in the United States, and often medical care outside of the United States can be very different from what you are accustomed to. In some countries, patients are required to provide their bedding, pillows, night wear, and hygiene products (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, wash cloths, towels). Planning ahead in case of an emergency is always advisable.

First Aid Pictures Slideshow: 8 First Aid Essentials for Car or Purse

What are Injury Preventions?

Accidents happen, but the risk of injury can be potentially minimized, planning and equipment make all the difference. Injuries happen at work, at play, at home, and on the road.

Injury prevention on the road

Things that make a difference while driving or riding in a vehicle include:

  • Wear a seatbelt.
  • Have proper fitting car seats for infants and children.
  • Wear a helmet when on a motorcycle or bicycling.
  • Never drive drunk or mentally impaired from either drugs or sleep deprivation.
  • Never get in a car with a drunk or impaired driver and try to prevent them from driving.
  • Supervise teen drivers and follow graduated license restrictions until the young driver has more experience behind the wheel.
  • Supervise older drivers and help them decide when they may have become dangerous. This may require enlisting the help of their physician or other friends. Loss of driving means loss of independence for a person, and it is just as life-changing a moment as a teenager who experiences the freedom of their first car.

Injury prevention at work

  • Know how to use equipment properly and don't take cut corners
  • Always wear safety equipment
  • When using your body as a tool, use it wisely.
  • Lift using proper technique.
  • Adjust workstations to fit your body size and shape.
  • Use common sense when reaching, especially when working on ladders or inclines.
  • Never work when impaired. Aside from drugs and alcohol, this includes being sleep deprived, which can increase the risk of accident and injury.

Injury Prevention at Home

Injuries that happen at home occur because of falls, fires, and poisonings. Falls occur at any age and while we consider them accidental, in retrospect, they may be all preventable. The same can be said for fires and poisoning.

Fall Prevention

For older adults, the CDC recommends a four-step approach to prevention.

  1. Begin a regular exercise program that emphasizes strength and coordination
  2. Review medications, since some may cause lightheadedness
  3. Have vision checked on a regular basis
  4. Make home safer including removing things that can cause tripping, removing small throw rugs, improving lighting, wearing shoes all the time, and installing grab bars and handrails.

Fire Prevention

  1. Install smoke detectors in the home, boat, or RV, and routinely change batteries and make certain that they are working.
  2. Have a fire escape plan for your home, boat, or RV and make certain everybody, even children, know about it.
  3. Keep matches away from children.
  4. Don't smoke in bed.
  5. Make certain all ashes are cold and not smoldering before putting them in the garbage.
  6. Use space heaters wisely and do not place them near drapes or other flammable materials.

Poisoning Prevention

Medications should be stored out of reach of children and ideally should be locked up. This includes over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen and aspirin. Over-the-counter medications can be toxic and just as lethal as prescription medications when taken improperly.

Cleaning chemicals, liquids, and detergents should always be kept in their original container and stored in a place out of reach from children. Under the sink is a bad place unless the area is always locked.

Poison proofing a home includes getting rid of any chemicals that you do not need. This includes items in the kitchen, laundry room, garage, and the workshop.

Know your local poison control center telephone number and write it down or program it into your cell phone. The National Poison Control telephone number is 1-800-222-1222.

Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home, boat, or RV to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Some states require these by law.

Injury Prevention at Play

  • Wear a helmet when on anything that goes faster than you can run. This includes bicycles, scooters, skateboards, skis, snowboards, and too many other home-made devices built for speed. Speed is fun but should be tempered with safety.
  • Playground equipment needs to be maintained, especially if it's in a backyard. Swings are a common cause of falls in kids. In public playgrounds falls from climbing structures are a number one source of injury.
  • Drowning should always be preventable. Water is a draw to young and old alike but it should be treated with respect. Drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death in kids aged 1–14.

Emergency Phone Numbers

This is just a partial list of important phone numbers to keep nearby:

  • Family doctor
  • Local hospital
  • Regular pharmacy
  • Health insurance company. Policy numbers are also helpful to have
  • Poison Control Center: Program the National Poison Control Center number in your phone. The number is 1-800-222-1222.

Disaster, Home, Office, Boat, Car First Aid Kits

There are a variety of commercial first aid kits available that can be used at home, on the road, and at play. They share the same basic supplies for wound care (cuts and scrapes), as well as supplies for making a splint or a sling. Outdoor first aid will have a blanket, gloves and a signaling device. The benefit of a premade kit is that the supplies are assembled in a hard box or nylon bag and are easily accessible, and the can be restocked easily. The downside is that you pay for that convenience. Most of the supplies are inexpensive and can be stored in a plastic container.

Disaster Supply Kit for the Home

FEMA suggests the following for a basic disaster supplies it.

A basic emergency supply kit could include a first aid kit and the following recommended items:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

Basic First Aid Kit for the Home

In any emergency a family member or you yourself may suffer an injury. If you have these basic first aid supplies you are better prepared to help your loved ones when they are hurt. Knowing how to treat minor injuries can make a difference in an emergency. You may consider taking a first aid class, but simply having the following things can help in a medical emergency.

The best place to keep a first aid kit is in the kitchen. Most family activities take place there. The bathroom has too much humidity, which shortens the shelf life of many items.

A basic first aid kit should have the following:

  • Two pairs of Latex or other sterile gloves if someone is allergic to Latex
  • Sterile dressings to stop bleeding
  • Cleansing agent/soap and antibiotic towelettes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Burn ointment
  • Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes
  • Eye wash solution to flush the eyes or as general decontaminant
  • Thermometer
  • Prescription medications that are taken every day such as insulin, heart medicine, and asthma inhalers. Periodically rotate medicines to account for expiration dates.
  • Prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood pressure monitoring equipment and supplies

Non-prescription drugs:

  • Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Antacid
  • Laxative
  • Oral antihistamine (diphenhydramine [Benadryl], etc.)
  • Anesthetic spray (topical lidocaine [Bactine, Lidocream, etc.]) or lotion (Calamine) for insect stings, bites, or rashes
  • Oral decongestant

Other first aid supplies:

  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant

First Aid Kit for the Boat

Since it may take significant time for a boat to dock, or if for an emergency on the water, having the full home first aid kit is reasonable. In addition, the following should be available:

  • A reflective warming blanket.
  • meclizine (Antivert) over the counter tablets for nausea or seasickness
  • Benadryl over the counter tablets for allergic reactions
  • Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Aspirin would be the medication of choice should someone complain of chest pain.
  • Moleskin

First Aid Kit for the Car, Camper, or RV

Less equipment is needed for the car, and climate and geography will also play a part in designing a first aid kit. Some additions include the following:

  • A warm blanket and some food and water supply is worthwhile, especially when travelling in wintry or isolated conditions
  • Emergency flags
  • Lite sticks or Glo sticks
  • Rain poncho
  • Gloves

Medication is usually not needed, especially anything that may cause sedation as a side effect (like diphenhydramine or meclizine). Driving is not recommended after taking these medications.

Reviewed on 11/21/2017

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care

REFERENCES:

"What You Can Do To Prevent Falls." CDC.gov.

"Basic Diaster Supplies Kit." Ready.gov.

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