A well-stocked first aid kit allows you to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies. It should include supplies to treat a variety of injuries, including cuts, scrapes, sprains, and minor burns. If you are just setting up a household, you can start with the basics. From there, you can add supplies based on your lifestyle and age.
What should be in a basic first aid kit?
The first step in caring for a cut, scrape, or other wound is making sure it is clean. To help you with this, your first aid kit should include:
- Disposable medical gloves. Be sure to look for non-latex if you or your family members have a latex allergy.
- Antiseptic cleanser or antiseptic wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Antibiotic ointment to apply once the cut has been thoroughly cleaned
- Bulb suction device for flushing wounds
All first aid kits should have a variety of supplies to cover cuts and scrapes, including:
- Bandage strips in a range of sizes
- Butterfly bandages, used for pressing cuts together to help promote healing
- Non-stick gauze pads and rolled gauze
- Adhesive tape
- Wrap bandages that can be used to hold gauze in place or support sprains
There are several topical treatments you can include, such as:
- Petroleum jelly to protect minor cuts or dry, cracked skin
- Aloe vera gel for minor burns
- Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream for the itch from bug bites or poison ivy
In addition to those basics, many first aid kits include:
- First aid manual
- Eye shield or pad
- Finger splint
- Safety pins
- Cotton balls and cotton-tipped swabs
- Instant cold packs or plastic bags for making an ice pack
- Eyewash solution
- Medical face masks
- A flashlight
- Insect repellant
Some people choose to keep items for minor illnesses in their first aid kit. These might include:
- Anti-diarrhea medication
- Antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine
- Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), and aspirin. (Warning: Never give aspirin to children.)
- Cough and cold medications
- Syringe, medicine cup, or spoon
Your kit should also include an auto-injector of epinephrine if you have been prescribed one, as well as any personal medications that don’t need refrigeration.
It is also helpful for first aid kits to include emergency information. This can include:
- Emergency numbers for your family doctor, local EMS, poison control, roadside assistance, and emergency contact names with contact information
- Medical history for each family member that includes past and current medical conditions, current prescription medications, precautions, and known allergies.
Customizing first aid kits
Now that you have a basic first aid kit, it is time to customize it based on your family’s needs. The following are suggestions for adding or substituting items for the elderly, college students, and sports-minded family members.
As people get older, their skin thins and can break or tear easily. First aid kits for the elderly should reflect this, as bandages that stick to skin can cause tears.
- First aid scissors. Unlike household scissors, these are strong enough to cut through clothing but have a blunt side so they won’t cut the skin.
- Self-adhering bandages. These don’t have absorbent qualities so when they are used to cover a wound, they should be paired with non-stick gauze. They are similar to elastic wrap bandages but don’t need clips to keep them closed. They can be wrapped around an arm or leg to hold non-stick gauze in place. They can also be used for compression.
- Transparent film dressings. Resembling plastic wrap, they allow you to see how healing is progressing.
- Paper tape. It can be easier to use than adhesive tape and may not tear the skin as easily as other medical tapes.
- Roller gauze. This allows you to wrap a wound rather than using tape to hold gauze in place. You can use the roller gauze and then cover with self-adhering bandages to eliminate any portion of the bandage sticking to the skin. Keep in mind that gauze bandages may still stick to wounds that are oozing or bleeding.
If you are creating a mini first aid kit for your college student, it should include, at a minimum:
- Antibiotic ointment
- Non-stick gauze and adhesive tape
- Elastic bandage
Because students living in dormitories don’t always have a way to create ice packs or heat packs, you might want to include instant hot/cold packs and a heating pad. Including spare feminine products and condoms may also be helpful for students away on their own for the first time.
In addition, your college student might also appreciate basic over-the-counter medications to help with minor illnesses, such as:
- Acetaminophen for headaches
- Ibuprofen for headaches and pains from inflammation or swelling
- Benadryl to relieve symptoms from bug bites or allergies
- Sore-throat lozenges
Your college student might also need easy access to certain pieces of information. Make a list that includes:
- Contact information for your family doctor and any medical specialists your teen sees on a regular basis
- Campus medical center phone number
- Poison control number
- Health-insurance provider, policy number, and contact information
- Emergency-contract information
- Health history including allergies, medical conditions, medications taken on a regular basis, and blood type
You can print this information and keep it with the first aid kit you created, email it to your child, or take a picture and send it to your college student’s phone so it is accessible at all times. Some parents write everything on a card their teen can keep in his or her wallet.
Sports-minded family members
If anyone in your family plays sports, keeping a basic first aid kit in your car is a must. Think about the injuries associated with each sport: For example, baseball players might be at particular risk for scrapes or sprains while runners might have problems with blisters. A first aid kit usually contains the basics for treating these injuries but you may need to add extras of items used most often. In addition, a sports-minded first aid kit should include:
- Insect repellant
- Safety pins
- Tweezers for splinters
- A waterproof flashlight
- Sterile gloves (latex and non-latex)
- Instant chemical cold packs and heat packs
- Ziploc bags for extra ice packs
Once you have customized your first aid kit to your family’s lifestyle, you are ready for most basic medical needs.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.