First Aid Kits

Medical Author:

Be Prepared for a Medical Emergency

  • Almost everyone will need to use a first aid kit at some time. Take the time to prepare a kit to have available for home and travel.
  • First aid kits may be basic or comprehensive. What you need depends on your medical training and how far you are from professional medical help.
  • Ready-made first aid kits are commercially available from chain stores or outdoor retailers. But you can make a simple and inexpensive first aid kit yourself.
  • Be prepared to take enough medication to last at least as long as you may be traveling (or for a few days more in case of delays).
  • Carry your medical information with you.
  • In case of emergencies when first aid is only the beginning of care, people should be prepared to give emergency personnel all of their current and past medical history (see below for methods).

Home and Travel First Aid Kits

Home first aid kits are usually used for treating these types of minor traumatic injuries:

First aid kits for travel need to be more comprehensive because a drug store may or may not be accessible. In addition to personal medical items, the kit should contain items to help alleviate the common symptoms of viral respiratory infections such as these: It should also contain items to treat these ailments:

How to Make a First Aid Kit

Try to keep your first aid kit small and simple. Stock it with multi-use items. Almost anything that provides good visibility of contents can be used for a household first aid kit.

  • If your kit will be on the move, a water-resistant, drop-proof container is best.
  • Inexpensive nylon bags, personal kits, fanny packs, or make-up cases serve very well.
  • You do not need to spend a lot of money on a fancy "medical bag." Use resealable sandwich or oven bags to group and compartmentalize items.
  • Put wound supplies in one bag and medications in another.

How to Use a First Aid Kit

Make sure you know how to properly use all of the items in your kit, especially the medications. Train others in your family to use the kit. You may be the one who needs first aid! Pack and use barrier items such as latex gloves to protect you from bodily fluids of others. Check the kit twice a year and replace expired medications. The National Poison Control Center phone number in the U.S. is 1-800-222-1222.

Where to keep your first aid kit

  • The best place to keep your first aid kit is in the kitchen. Most family activities take place here. The bathroom has too much humidity, which shortens the shelf life of items.
  • The travel kit is for true trips away from home. Keep it in a suitcase or backpack or drybag (for example, a zip lock plastic bag), depending on the activity.
  • A first aid kit for everyday use in the car should be just like the home first aid kit. For that matter, you could keep similar kits in your boat (inside a waterproof bag), travel trailer, mobile home, camper, cabin, vacation home, and wherever you spend time.

What to Put in Your Household Kit

You can buy all items for your first aid kits at a well-stocked drug store. Ask the pharmacist for help in selecting items.

Home kit: A household first aid kit should include these items:

  • Adhesive tape
  • Anesthetic spray (Bactine) or lotion (Calamine, Campho-Phenique) - for itching rashes and insect bites
  • 4" x 4" sterile gauze pads - for covering and cleaning wounds, as a soft eye patch
  • 2", 3", and 4" Ace bandages - for wrapping sprained or strained joints, for wrapping gauze on to wounds, for wrapping on splints
  • Adhesive bandages (all sizes)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) - oral antihistamine for allergic reactions, itching rashes. Avoid topical antihistamine creams because they may worsen the rash in some people.
  • Exam gloves - for infection protection, and can be made into ice packs if filled with water and frozen
  • Polysporin antibiotic cream - to apply to simple wounds
  • Nonadhesive pads (Telfa) - for covering wounds and burns
  • Pocket mask for CPR
  • Resealable oven bag - as a container for contaminated articles, can become an ice pack
  • Safety pins (large and small) - for splinter removal and for securing triangular bandage sling
  • Scissors
  • Triangular bandage - as a sling, towel, tourniquet
  • Tweezers - for splinter or stinger or tick removal
  • In case of a medical or trauma related emergency, a list of family member's medical history, medications, doctors, insurance company, and contact persons should be readily available.

What to Put in Your Travel Kit

Travel kit: A travel first aid kit may contain these items:

  • Adhesive tape
  • 4" x 4" sterile gauze pads
  • Antacid - for indigestion
  • Antidiarrheal (Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, for example)
  • Antihistamine cream
  • Antiseptic agent (small bottle liquid soap) - for cleaning wounds and hands
  • Aspirin - for mild pain, heart attack
  • Adhesive bandages (all sizes)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) - oral antihistamine
  • Book on first aid
  • Cigarette lighter - to sterilize instruments and to be able to start a fire in the wilderness (to keep warm and to make smoke to signal for help, for examples)
  • Cough medication
  • Dental kit - for broken teeth, loss of crown or filling
  • Exam gloves
  • Small flashlight
  • Ibuprofen (Advil is one brand name); another good choice is naprosyn (Aleve is a brand name)
  • Insect repellant
  • Knife (small Swiss Army-type)
  • Moleskin - to apply to blisters or hot spots
  • Nasal spray decongestant - for nasal congestion from colds or allergies
  • Nonadhesive wound pads (Telfa)
  • Polysporin antibiotic ointment
  • Oral decongestant
  • Personal medications (enough for the trip duration and perhaps a couple of extra in case of delays) and items (for example, a cane or knee braces if needed)
  • Phone card with at least 60 minutes of time (and not a close expiration date) plus at least 10 quarters for pay phones and a list of important people to reach in an emergency; cell phone with charger (cell service is not available in may areas, especially remote areas)
  • Plastic resealable bags (oven and sandwich)
  • Pocket mask for CPR (although now, CPR does not have to be mouth to mouth)
  • Safety pins (large and small)
  • Scissors
  • Sunscreen
  • Thermometer
  • Tweezers
  • A list of yours and other family member's medical history, medications, doctors, insurance company, and emergency contact persons (this can be accomplished easily with a flash drive; see for example, www.erinfocard.com

Reviewed on 11/17/2017

Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine

REFERENCES:

1. American Red Cross. Learn About CPR and AEDs. Learn About CPR and AEDs.

2. American Red Cross. Workplace Training: Standard First Aid. Workplace Training: Standard First Aid.

3. Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine: Management of Wilderness & Environmental Emergencies. Mosby-Year Book; 2000.

4. Donner H. Wilderness Medical Society: What's in a good medical kit? 1996. Wilderness Medical Society: What's in a good medical kit? 1996.

5. Forgey WW, ed. Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for Wilderness Emergency Care. Globe Pequot Press; 1995.

6. International Society of Travel Medicine. The Newsletter of the International Society of Travel Medicine. 2001. The Newsletter of the International Society of Travel Medicine. 2001.

7. Slapper D. Wilderness and Travel Medicine. eMedicine Journal [serial online]. 2001. Wilderness and Travel Medicine. eMedicine Journal [serial online]. 2001.

8. Weiss EA, ed. A Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness and Travel Medicine. 2nd ed. Adventure Medical Kits; 1998.

9. Wilderness Medicine Institute. Buck's Article Archive. Buck's Article Archive.

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