Suppose you accidentally cut your finger during a failed attempt at recreating a winning dish from your favourite reality TV cooking show (a fictional example, of course). In this scenario, you’ll know that your decision to have a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand was an excellent life choice.
Seriously though, a first aid kit is an essential safety item for your home. It helps keep you and your family safe during emergencies and allows you to easily treat minor injuries.
We asked pharmacist Sarah Gray from our healthylife Advisory Board for some expert advice on home first aid kit essentials and what to include on your first aid kit checklist.
Why having a home first aid kit is essential
While nobody wants to use a first aid kit, we all know that injuries can happen around the home. Having a well-maintained home first aid kit means you can:
- treat minor injuries quickly (before they turn into major injuries)
- have all your basic medical supplies in one place
- help keep someone stable in an emergency before medical help arrives
- help with everyday problems – you never know when you might need a first aid kit, but having one on hand will always help
For these reasons, it’s also worth having a basic first aid kit in your car or wherever you spend a lot of time, like a boat or caravan.
Make sure that every responsible family member knows where the first aid kit is stored and how to use it.
What should you have in your first aid kit?
Depending on you and your family’s medical needs, you might want to consider customising your kit.
What should be in a first aid kit in Australia depends on the activities, location and number of people that the kit is for.
However, there are some basics that every first aid kit should have, including:
Bandages, tapes, swabs and pads
Sarah says bandages, tapes and swabs make up the bulk of a basic first aid kit.
“You want to include a variety of crepe and elasticised bandages in different widths in case you need to strap up something. Triangular bandages make good slings. Compression bandages can be used for snake bites,” she advises.
Steri-strips are a handy item, as Sarah says that they almost act like stitches on minor wounds to help close two sides of a wound together.
Non-stick dressing pads are a must-have. “You want to have the option of using a non-stick side on a dressing pad. If you put rough gauze onto some wounds, it can stick to the injured area and be unpleasant to remove,” Sarah says.
Hypoallergenic skin tape is also essential to keep dressings in place.
Sarah recommends including sterile eye pads for eye injuries, alcohol and antiseptic swabs to clean wounds, and sterile saline tubes for eye and wound irrigation. Remember to let people know if you are wearing contact lenses when receiving eye first aid.
Combine dressings pads can help manage bleeding and don’t forget to include some good old adhesive dressing strips in your kit (optional whether you go with the decorative plasters).
Creams and gels
One of Sarah’s favourite items to include in a first aid kit is a hydrogel product.
“It’s an antiseptic gel that’s really good for minor burns, sunburn, cuts or grazes. A great thing about it is that it can help start the healing process,” she says.
Antiseptic itch relief cream can help soothe and relieve itching and discomfort caused by insect bites/stings, minor burns, mild sunburn and windburn.
Your family’s safety is important, which is why it’s recommended that at least one person in your household is trained in first aid.
Sarah recommends that you include these equipment items in your first aid kit:
- stainless steel scissors (can be used to cut bandages to size)
- disposable gloves (helps keep wounds clean and also for your protection and safety)
- tweezers (can be used to remove splinters and handle sterile wound dressings)
- disposable resuscitation face shield (in case you need to give CPR)
- notepad and permanent marker (helpful if making notes for emergency services)
- shock (thermal) blanket (helps to manage shock and body temperature)
- safety pins (can be used to hold and secure bandages)
- up-to-date first aid booklet (it’s important to do first aid training, but this can help remind you of what to do)
- rubbish bag (for waste disposal)
Customising your kit
Depending on you and your family’s medical needs, Sarah says you might want to consider customising your kit and adding some items for:
- Known medical conditions: include important personal medications that you take, such as asthma inhalers and adrenaline injection pens
- Young children: thermometer, pain and fever medicines plus dosage syringes and medicine cups
- Holidays and travel: laminated list of phone numbers for emergency services and family members, pain and fever medicines in case you get sick, anti-nausea medicine, anti-diarrhoea medicine (can help with symptoms of gas like farting and bloating), antacids for an upset stomach, oral rehydration solutions, condoms (sexual health is important too) and menstrual period supplies.
Don’t forget to include your travel and health insurance details somewhere handy and remember to pack any medications
- Adventure and camping: a torch and batteries, compass, disposable ponchos, heavy crepe bandages, instant cold packs, plastic bags, whistle, compass, torch and glow sticks
- Use in cars and caravans: highly reflective (day/night) safety triangle and vest in case of roadside emergencies
- Beach and boating: vinegar for jellyfish stings and for boating add a disposable poncho, plastic bags, whistle and glow sticks
Depending on you and your family’s medical needs, Sarah says you might want to consider customising your kit and adding items.
First aid kit maintenance and storage tips
To help keep your first aid kit organised and well-maintained, Sarah recommends keeping a list of all the items that should be in there. Adding expiry dates to the list can help speed up your first aid kit checks.
After using the kit, you need to check it and replace any items as soon as possible. If you haven’t used your kit, make sure that you check it annually (just like getting your annual health checks).
“When you check your kit, find and replace any items that aren’t in good working order, have deteriorated, are outside their expiry date or are sterile items that have become unsealed,” Sarah says.
Sarah’s advice on storing a home first aid kit is to keep it somewhere safe, accessible, cool, dry and away from humid areas like bathrooms. Be aware that medicines and other items in your kit, like some medications, may get damaged if exposed to high temperatures – such as in cars parked in the sun.
First aid kit checklist
Sarah recommends adding these essential items to your first aid box checklist:
Bandages, tapes, swabs and pads
- crepe and elasticised bandages of varying widths
- triangular bandages
- compression bandage
- combine dressing pads
- non-stick dressing pads
- adhesive dressing strips
- sterile eye pad
- alcohol swabs
- antiseptic skin swabs
- gauze swabs
- hypoallergenic (skin) tape
- sterile saline tubes
Cream and gels
- antiseptic itch relief cream
- stainless steel scissors
- disposable gloves
- disposable resuscitation face shield
- notepad and permanent marker
- shock (thermal) blanket
- safety pins
- up-to-date first aid booklet
- rubbish bag
Safety first for first aid kits
Make sure that every responsible family member knows where the first aid kit is stored and how to use it. Your family’s safety is important, which is why it’s recommended that at least one person in your household is trained in first aid.
Remember, always call triple zero (OOO) in an emergency.
Now that you’ve got a handy first aid checklist, it’s time to check your kit and replace any items that aren’t up to scratch. A well-stocked and maintained first aid kit could help keep you and your family safer during emergencies or if a minor injury occurs.
Or, it could even save the day the next time you feel like getting dangerously creative in the kitchen.
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Sarah Gray is both a Registered Pharmacist and Registered Nutritionist with a particular interest in health education and helping people to take small steps to big change in their health journey. Sarah is the Head of Health and Nutrition on the healthylife Advisory Board.
Reviewed by healthylife Advisory Panel June 2021