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Be Prepared: Your Home First Aid Kit

“Be prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and it’s a philosophy we should all embrace – when it comes to our families’ health and safety, that means having a well-stocked first-aid kit and other healthcare essentials at the ready in our homes. 

First aid is the immediate care someone needs when they have sustained an injury.  First aid is used to treat everything from a minor scratch to cardiac arrest. 

If a serious injury or medical event occurs in your home, you don’t have time to go to the store to get supplies.  That’s why it’s a smart idea to take inventory of what you have on hand and make sure you will be prepared.    

First Aid Kit

“Injuries and illnesses happen, which is why everyone needs to have a first-aid kit at home,” explains Dr. Ryan Balogh, a trauma surgeon in Grapevine.  “While you can’t plan perfectly for every imaginable situation that may arise, you should stock a basic first-aid kit that will cover most minor and many urgent situations.” 

Your first-aid kit should be stored in a location that is easily accessible, and every member of the household should know where first-aid supplies are located. 

The American Red Cross, a respected leader in disaster and emergency response for over 140 years, recommends that every home first-aid kit contain the following:

  • A first-aid guide
  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • 1 3-inch gauze roll (roller) bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 3 x 3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers

The above items are recommended for a family of four; adjust as needed based upon the size of your household.  A first-aid guide is an important inclusion in your kit – the supplies won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them!

In addition to the American Red Cross’s recommendations above, here are a few additional items the Mayo Clinic suggests having on hand:

  • Aluminum finger splint
  • Cotton balls & cotton swabs
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Eyewash solution
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Hydrogen peroxide

First Aid for Special Needs

While everyone should have the supplies above, some will need additional items for specific health needs.  For example, if someone has a severe allergy, treatments such as antihistamines and epinephrine injectors are essential to have on hand.

If someone in the home lives with diabetes, glucose tablets, an emergency glucagon kit and a juice box are recommended.

Chewable baby aspirin is a good idea if someone has coronary artery disease, provided they are not allergic to aspirin. 

Over-the-Counter Medications

Of course, we all usually want to have some over-the-counter (OTC) items on hand, in addition to what’s in our first-aid kit. 

NOTE: All medications, OTC and prescription, should always be stored out of reach of young children, as well as liquids such as rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, hand sanitizer, etc. 

  • Aloe vera gel (for relieving sunburn)
  • Calamine lotion (for itchy bites or poison ivy exposure)
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Laxatives
  • Antacids
  • Allergy medications
  • Hydrocortisone cream (for treating cuts, scratches & insect bites)
  • Cough and cold medications
  • Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

“With any OTC medication, be sure to read and follow all instructions on the label.  It’s also a good idea to ask your primary care provider’s advice on the most appropriate OTC products to have in your home,” says Dr. Shelley Weiss, a Dallas pediatrician.  “For example, certain allergy medications and pain relievers may be recommended for some people but not for others.”

Learning Basic First Aid

It’s a good idea to periodically review basic first aid techniques so you know what to do when the need arises.  As mentioned, the Red Cross Emergency First Aid Guide is a good resource to read and have on hand.  In addition, there are many online guides available, such as this one from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

You can also sign up for a first-aid training.  The Red Cross offers numerous types of classes for individuals and organizations.  Various organizations, including Red Cross, the American Heart Association and the YMCA, offer CPR classes.  CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation – is a vital lifesaving skill that anyone, adolescents and teenagers included, can learn.    

Know When to Call for Help

If someone in your house suffers a minor cut or an insect bite, your handy first-aid kit may well be the beginning and end of any treatment that’s needed. But if the injury or medical condition is serious – you need to call for help and then administer first aid. 

“Always call 911 first in an emergency – help will arrive faster, and the 911 operator will probably be able to stay on the phone with you to talk through the first aid you need to administer,” advises Dr. Amy Burton, a pediatric endocrinologist in Plano. 

You probably already know many of the situations in which you should call 911.  The American College of Emergency Physicians includes all of the following as reasons to seek emergency medical assistance: 

  • Bleeding that will not stop
  • Breathing problems (difficulty breathing, shortness of breath)
  • Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)
  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Feeling of committing suicide or murder
  • Head or spine injury
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Sudden injury due to a motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wound, or other injuries
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision
  • Swallowing a poisonous substance
  • Severe abdominal pain or pressure

For children, all the above are medical emergencies, plus:

  • Inability to stand or walk steadily
  • Skin or lips that appear blue, purple or gray
  • Eating and feeding difficulties
  • Fever with change in behavior or severe headache/back & neck stiffness
  • Any major change from normal behavior, including:
    • Confusion, delirium
    • Lack of responsiveness or alertness
    • Excessive sleepiness or lethargy
    • Irritability
    • Seizure

Again, if you or someone around you is experiencing any of the above, call 911 immediately. 

Be Prepared!

The Boy Scouts have it right when they teach young people to “be prepared.”  We must all prepare for the unexpected.  We know injuries and illnesses will happen – it’s inevitable.  Even though we can’t predict when those times will come, we can take control and be prepared by having a well-stocked first-aid kit and medicine cabinet at home, as well as knowing when to call for help. 

This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

The Mayo Clinic

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