Why you should have a first aid kit

PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | FILE The Keya Red Cross Society and the society’s team from Uganda during a past First Aid training session. It's important that you know how to use a first aid kit. A good first aid manual or first aid training may be helpful.

What you need to know:

  • Whether you're at home, in the car, or travelling, you should always have a first aid kit
  • Accidents and injuries can cause serious health problems when travelling, particularly if there are no good medical facilities nearby. Travel insurance that covers injuries as well as illness is essential
  • It makes sense to keep your first aid kit near to where it's most likely to be needed. It should be out of reach of children, but still readily accessible. Store it in a dry and cool place

Accidents can easily happen. A well-equipped first aid kit provides easy access to medical supplies to help treat minor injuries or keep a serious injury stable while you seek help.

Preventing injuries

Whether you're at home, in the car, or travelling, you should always have a first aid kit. It should contain all the supplies that you're likely to need for minor accidents.

When putting together your first aid kit, consider what you're likely to be doing and, if you're travelling, where you're going.

Preventing injuries is better than treating them, so being aware of hazards and taking sensible precautions against them is a priority. In the event of an accident, a first aid kit can help to deal with minor injuries or keep a serious injury stable while you seek help.

It's important that you know how to use the first aid kit. A good first aid manual or first aid training may be helpful.

What should I include in a first aid kit?

Home first aid kit

There are no specific recommendations for your home first aid kit, but it’s important that you include all the items that you and your family are likely to need. You can include any of the items below.

  • Antiseptic wipes or spray for cleaning cuts and grazes.
  • Gauze squares to clean wounds.
  • Non-sticky dressings, such as Melolin, for covering wounds.
  • Fabric plasters (individually wrapped).
  • Blister plasters (individually wrapped).
  • A selection of individually wrapped wound dressings.
  • A triangular bandage for making a sling.
  • Crepe bandages for supporting a sprain.
  • Surgical tape, such as Micropore, for holding a dressing in place.
  • Scissors for cutting tape, plasters and bandages.
  • Safety pins for securing bandages.
  • Tweezers for removing objects, such as splinters.
  • Digital thermometer for checking body temperature.
  • Disposable gloves to protect from exposure to blood.
  • Resuscitation face shield.
  • Eyewash solution and sterile eye pads.
  • A foil blanket for keeping someone warm.
  • First aid book.

Travel first aid kit

Below is a list of other items you may find useful as part of a travel first aid kit.

  • Sterile saline sachets for cleaning a wound.
  • A flashlight with a pack of batteries.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Sun protection. Use a water-resistant sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Contraception. If you're sexually active, include condoms in your travel first aid kit.
  • Antibiotics. If you will be away from good medical facilities on your trip, it may be worth taking antibiotics with you. Your family doctor will need to prescribe these for you. He or she will discuss with you when and how to use them.
  • Antimalarial medicines or tablets to prevent altitude sickness. If you're travelling abroad, be sure to ask in good time about vaccines and medications appropriate for your journey. If you're visiting a country where malaria is common, you should take antimalarial medicines before you travel to reduce your risk of malaria.

Accidents and injuries can cause serious health problems when travelling, particularly if there are no good medical facilities nearby. Travel insurance that covers injuries as well as illness is essential. If you, or someone you are travelling with, have an accident or serious injury that requires medical assistance, contact your insurance company as soon as you can and keep any receipts.

You should know your blood group before you leave home. You can find out your blood group by giving blood.

Containers for first aid kits

Keep your first aid items in a waterproof container large enough for the contents to be arranged so that you can find what you need quickly. A plastic container with a closely fitting lid or a re-sealable plastic bag is suitable.

It's a good idea to label the first aid box so that it can be easily recognised. The standard labelling for a first aid box is a green background with a white cross.

Ready-made kits

There are many ready-made kits available that you can buy from a pharmacy or from the internet. You can also make a kit yourself, selecting the contents that you need.

There is no official standard for first aid kits so they can vary. The contents you need may be different for your individual situation and its likely use.

Some may not include all the items you may need, so check the contents carefully.

If you're visiting an area where good medical facilities and equipment can't be guaranteed, you may want to carry an emergency medical kit. These kits contain sterilised and sealed medical equipment such as syringes, stitches and needles. Give your kit to the doctor or nurse in a medical emergency.

You can buy emergency medical kits from pharmacies and travel clinics. Provided that your kit is well packaged and clearly labelled, you shouldn't have any problems at customs.

Storage

It makes sense to keep your first aid kit near to where it's most likely to be needed. It should be out of reach of children, but still readily accessible. Store it in a dry and cool place.

Using a first aid kit

Just as important as keeping a first aid kit is knowing how to use it. All adults, older children and teenagers should know where the kit is kept, what is in it and how the items are used. It's a good idea to keep a first aid manual at home with the kit.

Replace any used or out-of-date items immediately and check expiry dates from time to time.

Medicines

There are some medicines that can be useful to keep at home or to have with you when you’re travelling. Always keep any medicines out of reach of children. At home you should keep these medicines in a separate, locked medicine cabinet.

Useful medicines to add to your first aid kit:

  • Antihistamine cream for insect bites and tablets, such as chlorphenamine, for allergic reactions.
  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen for pain relief or to reduce a fever. Keep tablets for adults and liquid sachets for children.
  • Anti-diarrhoea tablets and rehydration salts. These are useful if you’re travelling.
  • Water purification tablets. You may wish to take these with you if you’re travelling and won’t have access to clean or bottled water.

Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions ask your pharmacist for advice.

If you, or someone who is travelling with you, regularly take medicines that have been prescribed by a doctor, make sure you pack enough for your whole trip. Allow enough for a couple of days delay either side.

Keep your medicines in their original, labelled packaging with their information leaflets. It's useful to carry a letter from your doctor stating which medicines you need and what they are for, as you may be asked for this at customs.

It's also important to be prepared if you have medical conditions that occur or flare-up occasionally, such as migraine, asthma or eczema.

Training

It's a good idea to be trained in first aid. Courses are provided by organisations like Red Cross and Red Crescent.

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