Putting together a first-rate first aid kit
What’s the old saying? Expect the unexpected. It’s a great reminder to be prepared for accidents and injuries that can happen at home. In fact, more accidents actually happen at home than anywhere else. That’s why Denise Bruckerhoff, D.O., a board-certified internal medicine physician with USMD Midlothian, says it’s important to put together a first aid kit for your home and car.
“You want to be able to take care of yourself or your loved one until you can transport yourself to the emergency room or doctor’s office, or until paramedics arrive. Time is valuable if you’re bleeding or having a heart attack, so anything you can do at the immediate time of injury or medical event is going to be beneficial in the long run.”
First things first.
To get started, you’ll need a plastic or metal case large enough to hold all of your first aid materials. It’s a good idea to create two kits—one for your home and one to keep in the trunk of your car so you’ll have a first aid kit with you on the road, at your kid’s soccer games, the lake, etc. “Add some bottles of water and a blanket to your car kit,” Dr. Bruckerhoff advises.
To handle the most common accidents, injuries or emergencies, Dr. Bruckerhoff recommends your first aid kit contain these 13 must-haves:
Baby aspirin. If you’re having chest pains and think you may be having a heart attack, chew four baby aspirin. “Don’t swallow the aspirin tablets, make sure you chew them,” Dr. Bruckerhoff advises. “Chewing allows the aspirin to be immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, which can help alleviate any blockage or blood clotting that may be causing chest pains until you can get medical help.”
EpiPen. With fire ants, snakes, scorpions, wasps and so many other venomous creatures in Texas, an EpiPen can be a lifesaver. “EpiPens have to be prescribed by a physician, so this is something you will need to talk with your doctor about,” Dr. Bruckerhoff explains. “Also, EpiPens have an expiration date, so you need to check the date on them from time to time to ensure they are still good.”
Tourniquet. Say you cut yourself with a knife in the kitchen or outside working in the yard. “If it’s a really nasty cut with a lot of bleeding, you need to stop or slow the blood loss until you can get additional help,” says Dr. Bruckerhoff. “Tying a tourniquet tightly above the cut will slow or stop blood loss.” Medical-grade tourniquets are available at the drug store, but even thick string or a small rope works, too. Even a man’s necktie can be used as a tourniquet around an arm or a leg in an emergency situation.”
Sterile saline. “A lot of people use peroxide or alcohol to wash out an open wound, but I prefer to irrigate wounds with sterile saline,” says Dr. Bruckerhoff. “Saline is my top choice because it has so many uses. Plus, it doesn’t sting!”
Gauze pads. Use gauze pads to apply pressure to an open wound and stop bleeding. “Gauze pads can also be used to make bandages, so have a good supply on hand because you’ll go through them pretty quickly,” says Dr. Bruckerhoff.
Ace wrap. “You can stabilize an ankle sprain or fracture with an ace wrap,” explains Dr. Bruckerhoff. “Used with gauze pads, you can form a bandage with the wrap. And in a worst-case scenario, you can stretch an ace bandage and make it tight enough for use as a tourniquet.”
Dramamine. “Along with relieving motion sickness, this over-the-counter medication can help stop violent vomiting and dehydration,” says Dr. Bruckerhoff. “For example, if you’re a diabetic at home alone and can’t stop vomiting, Dramamine will slow it enough so you can stay hydrated and get to a doctor for help.”
Oral antihistamine. Along with relieving allergies, oral antihistamines such as Benadryl can help relieve itching, sneezing, swelling and other symptoms of allergic reactions caused by mosquito or fire ant bites.
Triple antibiotic ointment. “Put this on any wound to prevent infection from setting in,” Dr. Bruckerhoff advises.
Steri strips. “These small strips are a type of bandage that can be used to pull the skin together and keep a cut or wound from gaping open,” says Dr. Bruckerhoff. “They’re especially useful if you have small children.”
Dermabond. This is a medical-grade super glue that can be used to close cuts. “It’s expensive and sometimes hard to get,” Dr. Bruckerhoff admits, “but regular super glue can be used if you don’t have Dermabond. Say you’re out in the woods and cut yourself and the wound won’t stop bleeding. Pull it together with steri strips and glue it shut with super glue.”
Preparation H. “This is one of my favorite items,” says Dr. Bruckerhoff. “It can be applied to any burn—specifically sunburns to help reduce their pain and inflammation. Preparation H is moisturizing so it prevents peeling and it has anesthetic properties. Most people just think it’s for hemorrhoids, but it’s very useful for burns. In fact, I never use aloe vera—I always use Preparation H.”
Disposable medical gloves. Keep a box on hand and wear them when treating another individual with injuries.
Along with the above items, Dr. Bruckerhoff recommends keeping emergency numbers in your first aid kit, as well as the name of your family’s doctor, a list of family members’ medical conditions and list of current medications.
Remember, a first aid kit is designed to help you immediately deal with an injury until you can seek proper medical attention when necessary. Not all injuries may require a visit to the doctor, and some that you may not think need follow-up care might actually need additional medical attention. For example, if you sustain a significant cut, have it checked out by your doctor to see if you need antibiotics or a tetanus shot to prevent a secondary infection.
Denise Bruckerhoff, D.O., is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She completed her Doctor of Osteopathy degree at Kansas City University of Medicine & Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine.