Accidents happen. You take a tumble down the stairs late at night, your kids get a bad bug bite while playing in the woods, or an ambitious kitchen concoction gets the better of you.
From twisted ankles to deeper-than-expected cuts, life presents a wide assortment of challenges from time to time. While you can’t stop these things from happening, you can be prepared for when they do.
Every family needs one or more first aid kits. A complete kit contains items to help with illnesses, injuries, and the other ups and downs of life.
If your family’s first aid supplies are lacking, now’s the time to build a complete kit.
That way, when someone gets sick or hurt, you’ll be ready to handle it.
What to Put in a First Aid Kit
A well-stocked first aid kit is ready for nearly any emergency. You can buy pre-made kits, but these may not actually contain a good assortment of supplies. The most complete collections are usually homemade. As you pull together your family’s first aid supplies, use the following lists to guide you.
Cuts and scrapes may be some of the most frequent first aid needs that crop up in your house. Bandages and related supplies are useful for covering wounds or providing support for other injuries. Your bandage supply should include:
- Adhesive bandages in various sizes
- Butterfly bandages
- Adhesive tape
- Nonstick pads
- Sterile gauze pads
- Gauze roll
- Elastic wrap
- Trauma pad (to stop bleeding)
- Eye pad
The Red Cross recommends keeping 25 adhesive bandages on hand for a family of four. For items like gauze and elastic bandages, you won’t need as much stock.
Creams & Ointments
Topical products are useful for keeping injuries clean and protected. They also soothe irritated skin. Your first aid collection may include:
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antiseptic wipes
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Calamine lotion
- Petroleum jelly
- Aloe vera gel
You could buy full-size tubes of these products or purchase single-use packages instead. Individual packets may take up less space in on-the-go first aid kits. The downside is that you might not remember to restock them as often. Consider a mix of both if resources and space allow.
Over-the-counter pills, tablets and liquids can soothe aches, pains and other ailments. Some are useful for reducing fevers as well. The medications your first aid kit might include:
- Aspirin (for adults only)
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- Decongestant for colds and/or allergies
- Cough syrup
If you have young kids, make sure to stock these products in both child and adult forms. Get infant varieties, too, if needed, and make sure you’ve got a copy of the dosing instructions for kids.
Liquid medications are usually easiest for the youngest patients to take. Plus, adult varieties can be too strong for children.
As for prescription medications, it may be hard to get extra refills of your meds depending on your insurance type. Plus, medication does expire, so there may not be much point in stockpiling your prescriptions. Just make sure that any meds you and your family take regularly stay filled as often as needed — i.e., don’t forget a trip to the pharmacy when you’re running low.
Tools and Supplies
Your first aid kit will be more complete if you stock a variety of equipment as well. Some items will help you apply or dispense medication. Others may be just what the doctor ordered for treating or protecting an injury. These include:
- Cotton balls
- Cotton swabs
- Non-latex gloves (in case of latex allergies)
- Triangular bandage to use as a sling
- Finger splint
- Measuring cup, spoon or syringe for liquid medication
- Instant cold pack
- One-way-valve breathing barrier for use during CPR
- Tweezers (for removing ticks or splinters)
- Safety pins
- Flashlight and batteries
Many of these items will be reusable over and over again. Plus, unlike creams and pills, most of them won’t expire after a few years.
In addition to medicine and supplies, you should also keep a first aid manual with your kit. Make sure to read through it ahead of time. There may not be minutes to spare in a life-threatening emergency.
Don’t forget about bug spray and sunscreen, either. These items can prevent problems before they start.
A first aid kit could be especially useful during a disaster. To round out your supplies, add waterproof matches, duct tape and a heat-reflective blanket. These items could be particularly important for outdoor adventures.
In an emergency, you may need quick access to important information. Store a list of your family’s healthcare providers and their phone numbers in your first aid kit.
Keep medical records for your family on hand, too. That could include a brief medical history on each person, such as allergy information or past and current diagnoses. Add any treatment consent forms that you’ve filled out as well.
If you and/or your family has special health or medical needs, make sure you’re prepared for them.
For example, families with serious allergies should always have an EpiPen nearby. Kids with asthma might need an extra rescue inhaler on hand.
Where to Keep First Aid Kits
At minimum, you should have one first aid kit at home and one in your car. If you spend a lot of time on the go, you might also want a small first aid kit to store in your purse or backpack.
Your home kit will probably have the largest stock. Rather than just a small container, you may need a large bag or bin, or even an entire cabinet to store all of your medical supplies.
Try to keep everything in one general area, clearly labeled by type of product. That way, you’ll know right where to find things when a need arises. Organize small or frequently used items in an easy-to-carry plastic container. A tackle box could be just the right size.
Your car kit can be more compact than your home collection. The National Safety Council recommends including bandages, gauze, tape and gloves. Tools on the list include scissors, tweezers and a thermometer. Pack pain relievers, hydrocortisone cream and antibiotic cream as well. It’s also a good idea to have a blanket.
Your workplace should also have first aid kits. Find out where they’re located. If yours doesn’t have any on hand, talk to your HR department about adding this health and safety measure. You could also keep your own small kit in your desk.
If you want to be prepared while out and about, consider carrying a small version of a first aid kit in your purse or bag. This mini version could include a few bandages, an alcohol wipe and antibiotic cream. It’s not enough for big emergencies, but it would do in a pinch for small cuts and scrapes.
How to Maintain a First Aid Kit
Assembling and organizing your first aid kit could take a while. Once it’s done, though, you’ll be ready for any emergencies that arise.
Well, almost. Your first aid kit does need a bit of regular attention.
Every few months, go through your collection:
- Restock bandages and other one-time-use items.
- Check the expiration dates on creams and pills, and replace any that are past their prime.
- Flip on your flashlights to make sure that the batteries still work.
Don’t forget to clear out any clutter that might have accumulated, too. You could make the first aid kit cleanup part of your seasonal cleaning regimen or just set a date every quarter to check it over.
Where to Learn More About First Aid
The more you know about first aid, the better. Owning a first aid manual — and reading it — is one important step you can take.
For hands-on practice, though, sign up for a first aid class. During a course, you’ll learn from an experienced teacher. You might get to role-play scenarios or watch informative videos and practice in real time.
Put a first aid app on your phone, too, so you’ll always have a jam-packed guide on hand. Two reputable apps to consider are First Aid: American Red Cross and the National Safety Council’s Emergency Medical Response Guide.
Finally, in serious situations, remember to call for emergency help before beginning treatment. First aid is useful for minor problems. It can also serve as a stopgap until rescue workers arrive.
But true, potentially life-threatening emergencies, such as major bleeding, head injuries, loss of consciousness or allergic reactions need professional attention. Call 911 if you’re not sure — better safe than sorry, as they say.