Fortunately, most minor injuries are simple to treat -- so simple, in fact, that you can find all of the materials that you need in a well-stocked first aid kit. An inexpensive store-bought kit is a good place to start. You can also assemble your own using the list below as a guide. You should customize your kit to meet the needs of your family. For example, if someone in your household has type 2 diabetes, you may want to keep an extra supply of diabetes pills in your kit.
- Thermometer. To be safe, choose one that's digital rather than mercury-filled glass. For a child under 4 years old, you'll want to have a rectal thermometer on hand and some petroleum jelly to make it easier to use.
- Tweezers for removing splinters, shards of glass, ticks, and so on. Invest in a pair with a narrow point and solid grip.
- Antiseptic wipes for disinfecting wounds or cleaning hands.
- Rubbing alcohol for disinfecting and cleaning superficial wounds. (Don't use alcohol on cuts.) Alcohol can be useful to help clean tweezers or a needle used to remove splinters.
- Antibiotic ointment, such as bacitracin, to dab on cuts and scrapes to prevent infection while healing. For fresh cuts and scrapes, wash first with cool, running water. Soap can irritate wounds, but mild soaps may be used to gently clean the area around the wound. Once the wound is clean, dab on a little antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile bandage.
- Cortisone cream. Cortisones are anti-inflammatory drugs useful for soothing rashes. Any 1 percent hydrocortisone cream can be bought without a prescription. It can relieve itching and redness, and is generally safe for infants and children when used in moderation.
- Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, aspirin tablets, and ibuprofen. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are good choices for relieving fever, pain, or both. If you have children, keep some children's Tylenol or Children's Motrin handy. Never give aspirin to a child or teenager who has a cold or fever; it could trigger a rare but life-threatening condition known as Reye's syndrome. Always have some aspirin tablets on hand in case of a heart attack, though they should only be used per your doctor's instructions.
- Adhesive bandages in assorted sizes, alcohol wipes. and soap
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Antiseptic solution (like hydrogen peroxide)
- Adhesive tape to hold gauze bandages in place.
- Elastic bandages to wrap around sprains.
- Sterile gauze dressings in rolls and two-inch and four-inch pads to clean up scrapes and stop bleeding.
- Sharp scissors with rounded tips for cutting adhesive tape, gauze, or clothing.
- A triangular bandage to use for slings or to wrap larger injuries.
- Safety pins to hold splints in place or fasten large bandages.
- Tooth preservation kit
- Blanket to store nearby
- Cold pack to bring down swelling from sprains or insect bites. The newer ones developed for emergency kits don't need to be frozen ahead of time; you just squeeze them to start the cooling reaction.
- A cough suppressant to relieve coughing. If you have children in the house, make sure you have a cough suppressant that is appropriate for their age group as well as one for adults.
- An antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which is available over the counter, to relieve allergies and allergic reactions.
- Decongestant tablets such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) to ease nasal congestion from allergies or colds.
- An oral medicine syringe to use when giving medicine to small children.
- Rehydrating fluids like Pedialyte to prevent dehydration in infants with diarrhea.
- Calamine lotion to treat the itching and irritation of poison ivy, poison oak, or insect bites.
- Latex gloves as a precaution against infection. If you have a latex allergy, use gloves that do not contain latex, such as nitrile gloves.
- Emergency consent forms for each member of your family to be used in an emergency if you're unable to give your consent for treatment. Consent forms for each of your children should also be given to their caregivers when you're away from home.
Note: In the past, doctors have recommended keeping syrup of ipecac in your first aid kit to use in a poisoning emergency. However, doctors found that syrup of ipecac generally caused more harm than good and now recommend that you throw away any that you have on hand.
In the event of a poisoning, call the U.S. national poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or dial 911 and follow their instructions.
Other important phone numbers
Write down these phone numbers and tape them to the fridge and inside your first aid kit:
- Your national and local poison control center. Look in the front section of your phone book to find the number for your area.
- Your family doctor or pediatrician.
- The closest hospital.
- Local fire and rescue squad (911 should also work).
- At least two nearby friends or neighbors who can give you a ride or watch your children in case you need to leave suddenly.
- A list of allergies and medications for each household member.
First aid manual
Read a basic manual as soon as you get it, so you know what to do if your child chokes on a piece of candy or falls into a pool. You don't want to waste time frantically searching for instructions during an emergency. Here are two good references:
- Pocket guide: FastAct Pocket First Aid Guide. Kurt Duffens, MD, and Brad Rickey, EMT-P.
- American College of Emergency Physicians' First Aid Manual.
Storing and maintaining your first aid kit
For safety's sake, keep your medicine kit in a zippered bag or secure box and store it out of children's reach, but close enough that you will be able to remember and find it quickly in an emergency. Most items in a first aid kit are dangerous in small hands. It's better to store medications on a high closet shelf rather than in the bathroom because the warmth and steam from showers can make drugs break down faster. Check the contents of your kit every three to six months, and replace the things that you have used or that have expired. It helps to include an inventory of everything that should be in your kit, so you can figure out what needs to be replaced.
American Red Cross. Health and Safety Services for Your Community. http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/courses/community.html American Red Cross.
Anatomy of a first aid kit. http://www.redcross.org/
Mayo Clinic. Stock supplies that can save lives.
Mayo Clinic. Sprain: First Aid.