12 Key Items for First Aid Kits

Joseph Lauro MD, FACEP

“Ouch!”

How many times have you heard that? At a party, camping, at home, or maybe at work? Accidents happen anywhere, at any time, so you’ve got to be prepared! Here are some simple, fast, and possibly life-saving techniques, plus a list of first aid supplies, to help you be ready when someone needs help.

Bleeding

On a camping trip in the Thousand Islands region of New York, a friend tried to fillet a fish that his son had just caught. Instead, he ended up filleting his finger. Unfortunately, we were deep in the woods and at least 25 minutes from the nearest rescue worker. Luckily, I’m an emergency physician. But the tools I used are available to any first responder. In some scenarios, that could be you! 

First, stop the bleeding! Applying direct pressure to the wound is the best first step to prevent further bleeding. If the injury is on an arm or leg, then elevate it. This is the first lesson all emergency medical services (EMS) professionals are taught when it comes to trauma. It’s also the first thing I’d do in my Emergency Department.

Items you’ll need

  • Nitrile, or other non-latex gloves to prevent contamination for you and your patient.
  • Sterile gauze pads to place directly on the wound. These are available in various sizes but 4x4 is fairly universal. If the bleeding soaks through the pad, don’t remove it! Instead, place another over it and keep pressure on the wound.
  • Kling, or other bandage to wrap the affected body part. Wound dressings shouldn’t be so tight that the skin beyond the dressing turns pale and cold. That isa tourniquet effect and should be applied only in life/limb threatening situations. Such situations are best recognized by EMS professionals and health care workers.

Pain

Pain has many causes and although many may live with chronic pain, it’s generally abnormal. Your first aid kit should include basic pain management medication for things like sprains, minor injuries, bumps, and bruises.

Don’t underestimate the pain-relieving power of acetaminophen and ibuprofen! But before administering any medication, always make sure your patient is not allergic. Outside of the office, I’d only administer medication to a family member or close friend. If you don’t know the person, remember that he or she may have a reason to avoid certain medication.

Excellent alternatives to medications

  • Ice can reduce pain, but shouldn’t be applied directly to skin. Instead, use a towel or piece of cloth as a thin barrier. Cold packs can also be used.
  • Elevation assists in alleviating pressure and swelling if the injury is on an arm or leg.
  • Restricted use of the injured area. If someone injures their ankle, they shouldn’t walk on it until the cause of the injury is identified. Some fractures can be made worse by “weight bearing,” or putting weight on the injury.

Build your own kit

Some first aid kits can be pretty comprehensive. They range from a small pack that you can carry on your bicycle, to those used by medical professionals. Here are some basic things to add to your kit that can come in handy in sticky situations, or until paramedics arrive:

  • Examination gloves
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Medical tape
  • Cold compresses
  • Medical scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Gauze pads
  • Gauze rolls/kling rolls
  • Triangular bandages
  • Alcohol pads
  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Trauma pads, which are larger than gauze pads, are also a good idea. But if you need to use these, your patient likely requires immediate medical attention.>

For more information on first aid kits, click here

Remember, 9-1-1 should be your first call in an emergency! If you feel you or a loved one need to be seen, there are emergency physicians and nurses here, 24 hours a day, every day.

For more information on our emergency department, visit our website.