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First aid kits

A first aid kit is a collection of medical supplies. If you or someone you’re with has an accident, these can help to treat minor injuries and ailments. They may also be helpful for keeping a more serious injury stable while you seek help.

Whether you're at home, in the car, or travelling abroad, it's a good idea to have a first aid kit to hand. It should contain all the supplies that you're likely to need for minor injuries or ailments. When you put 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 make yourself aware of any potential hazards and take sensible precautions against them.

It's important to know how to use what’s in your first aid kit. A good first aid manual and first aid training may be helpful.

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  • What should I include in a first aid kit? What should I include in a first aid kit?

    There are no specific recommendations for a home first aid kit. We’ve put together a list of common items that you could possibly need.

    • Antiseptic wipes or spray for cleaning cuts and grazes.
    • Gauze squares to clean wounds.
    • Non-sticky dressings, such as Melolin, for covering wounds.
    • Waterproof adhesive plasters of various sizes (individually wrapped).
    • A selection of individually wrapped wound dressings.
    • Adhesive strips to close small cuts.
    • 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.
    • Resuscitation face shield.
    • Eyewash solution and sterile eye pads.
    • A foil blanket for keeping someone warm.
    • A first aid manual.
    • A selection of medicines.
  • Travel health Travel health

    Travel health kit

    If you’re travelling away from home, it’s a good idea to carry a first aid kit with you. As well as the suggested contents of a home first aid kit, there are some other items that you may find useful.

    • Insect repellent to prevent insect bites.
    • Sunscreen. Use a water-resistant one 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.

    Useful documents

    Accidents and injuries can cause serious health problems abroad, particularly if there are no good medical facilities nearby. It's essential to have travel insurance that covers injuries as well as illness. If you, or a travel companion, have an accident or serious injury that requires medical assistance, contact your insurance company as soon as you can. It's important to keep any receipts. If you’re travelling within Europe, apply for an EHIC card and take this with you.

    If you know your blood group, it's helpful to have this information on a card, along with details of any allergies you have. If you have a health problem or are taking medicines, carry that information with you as well. You can find out your blood group by giving blood.

  • Medicines Medicines

    It can be useful to keep some medicines at home, or carry them with you when you’re travelling. Always keep any medicines out of reach of children. At home, keep them in a separate, locked medicine cabinet.

    Useful medicines to add to your first aid kit are listed below.

    • Antihistamine cream for insect bites and antihistamine tablets, such as chlorphenamine (eg Piriton), for allergic reactions.
    • Paracetamol and ibuprofen for pain relief or to reduce a fever. It’s important to bear in mind that not all over-the-counter painkillers are suitable for children.
    • Anti-diarrhoea tablets and rehydration salts. These are useful if you’re travelling abroad and develop diarrhoea or are repeatedly sick.
    • Anti-travel sickness tablets if you're travelling. Ask your GP or pharmacist which medicines are most suitable. 
    • Water purification tablets or an alternative device for purifying water. You may wish to take these with you if you’re travelling abroad and won’t have access to bottled or safe drinking water.
    • Antibiotics. If you will be away from good medical facilities on your trip, it may be worth taking antibiotics with you. Your GP will need to prescribe these for you. He or she will discuss with you when and how to use them.
    • Antimalarial medicines. If you're travelling abroad, be sure to ask in good time about vaccines and medicines that are appropriate for your journey. If you're visiting a country where malaria is common, take antimalarial medicines before and during your trip to reduce your risk of malaria. Remember to continue taking them after you return if necessary, as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Also take steps to prevent mosquito bites.
    • Medicines to prevent altitude sickness. If you’re travelling to a high altitude above 2,500m, the best way to reduce your risk of altitude sickness is to acclimatise gradually. However, there are also medicines that your doctor can prescribe to help prevent it.

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

    Travelling with medicines

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

    Remember to be prepared if you have medical conditions that occur or flare-up occasionally, such as migraine, asthma or eczema.

    Keep your medicines in their original, labelled packaging with their information leaflets. It's useful to carry a letter from your GP stating which medicines you need and what they are for. You may be asked for this at customs. It's also important to check if you can enter a country with your medicines as some are restricted in certain countries.

  • Containers for first aid kits Containers for first aid kits

    Keep your first aid items in a waterproof container. Make sure it's large enough so you can arrange the contents in such a way that you can find what you need quickly. A plastic container with a close-fitting lid or a resealable plastic bag is ideal.

    Label the first aid box so you can recognise it easily. The standard labelling for a first aid kit is a white cross on a green background.

  • Ready-made kits Ready-made kits

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

    The contents of first aid kits can vary. The things you need will be different depending on where you are and what you’re doing. Some may not include all the items you need, so check what’s included carefully.

    Emergency first aid kits

    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. They may reduce your risk of getting a blood-borne infection. Give your kit to the doctor or nurse in a medical emergency.

    You can buy emergency medical kits from pharmacies and travel clinics. Ensure your kit is clearly labelled. You may need to carry a medical certificate to get it through customs.

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  • Storing a first aid kit Storing a first aid kit

    It makes sense to keep your first aid kit near to where you're most likely to need it. 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 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's in it and how the items are used. If possible, keep a first aid manual with the kit.

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

  • Training Training

    It's a good idea to be trained in first aid. In the UK, organisations such as St John Ambulance and British Red Cross run a range of courses.

  • FAQs FAQs

    How should I clean a minor wound?

    Answer

    If you or someone else has a minor wound (break in your skin), it's important to clean it. This will minimise the risk of infection.

    Explanation

    It's important to take steps to prevent infection and make sure the wound heals quickly. These are listed below.

    • If you're treating a wound on someone else, wash and dry your hands first. If possible wear disposable gloves.
    • Clean the wound under running water, or, if available, pour saline solution (sterile salt water) over it.
    • Pat the area dry with a sterile dressing or a gauze swab.
    • Cover the wound while you clean the surrounding skin with saline, a skin-cleaning wipe or soap and water.
    • Pat the surrounding skin dry and remove the covering. Apply a plaster or sterile dressing.

    Always keep an eye on the area for infection. Things to look out for include redness, swelling and increasing pain. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist.

    You must seek urgent medical attention if the wound:

    • doesn't stop bleeding (to control minor bleeding, apply pressure and if possible, lift the area above the level of your heart)
    • has something large stuck in it
    • is at risk of infection, for example it has dirt in it

    How can I check body temperature?

    Answer

    Depending on the type of thermometer you have you can check someone’s body temperature by placing it in their armpit, mouth or ear. Alternatively you can use a forehead thermometer strip.

    Explanation

    Never use a mercury thermometer, as it can break easily and mercury is poisonous. Digital thermometers are the simplest and safest to use. A regular digital thermometer can be used in the mouth or armpit. Alternatively, you could use a digital ear thermometer. This type of thermometer is ideal to measure a child's temperature.

    You can use thermometer strips on the forehead. However, because the strip measures skin temperature rather than body temperature, it may not be very accurate.

    Normal body temperature is usually about 37°C. It's important to take regular readings of a person's body temperature in case there is any change.

    Always read the instructions that come with your thermometer. After each use, clean the tip with an antiseptic wipe or soap and warm water. Some thermometers come with disposable plastic covers so you can put on a new one each time you use it.

    How can I prevent my child from having an accident at home?

    Answer

    There are a number of potential dangers in the home that can cause accidents and injure children. You can take steps to try to reduce the risk of this happening.

    Explanation

    Many accidents that happen at home can be prevented. Most injuries to children in the home happen when they fall. Other types of accidents include drowning, poisoning, suffocating, choking and burns. Children under five are most likely to have an accident and, in general, boys have more accidents than girls.

    It's important to make your house as safe as possible and there are a number of things you can do. These include the following.

    • Always supervise your children.
    • Choose toys that are suitable for your child's age.
    • Use the hotplates or gas rings at the back of your cooker and turn pan handles away from the edge.
    • Use a secure fireguard.
    • Keep matches and plastic bags (including nappy sacks) out of reach.
    • Fit smoke alarms and check them regularly.
    • Lock chemicals and medicines away in a cupboard.
    • Lock cleaning products, such as detergent tablets and liquitabs (some of which are very colourful and attractive to children) in a cupboard out of reach.
    • Fit locks to windows to keep them secure.
    • Keep your floors free of toys and other items that your child could trip over.
    • Put safety gates at the top and bottom of your stairs.
    • When you run a bath, turn the cold water tap on first and then add hot water.
    • Never leave your child alone in the bath, even for a second.

    It's also important to teach your child about the potential dangers in your home.

    What special items should I take in my first aid kit if my young children are travelling with me?

    Answer

    There are a number of items you can take for your children. Young children can become dehydrated more easily than adults and are particularly sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. They can also become travel sick quite easily. Therefore, include suitable medicines for young children in your first aid kit, as well as a high factor sunscreen and some rehydration salts.

    Explanation

    Before your child travels, ensure he or she has had all their routine immunisations, and any that are specifically recommended for your destination. If you're unsure, ask your practice nurse or GP.

    Make sure you include suitable medicines in your first aid kit as some (such as aspirin) aren't safe for young children. You can buy alternative formulations for children, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen as syrup.

    There are various medicines available from your pharmacist to help prevent travel sickness. For children over 10, you can put a hyoscine (eg Scopoderm TTS) patch behind their ear five to six hours before you travel. You can give children over five cinnarizine tablets (eg Stugeron). Give your child a tablet two hours before you travel.

    It's important to include a mosquito repellent in your first aid kit. Diethyltoluamide (DEET) is an effective mosquito repellent. It’s safe and effective as a lotion, spray or roll-on for children over two months. You can buy these from most pharmacies. Make sure your children wear long sleeves and trousers after dusk to provide extra protection against biting insects. At night, hang mosquito nets over your child’s bed.

    Young children are particularly sensitive to UV rays, so it's vital that you protect their skin. Keep babies out of direct sunlight. Ensure your children wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothes and a hat. Use a water-resistant sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

    Young children can become dehydrated more easily than adults, especially if they don't drink enough fluids or they lose fluid because of diarrhoea. Anti-diarrhoea tablets are usually only suitable for older children and adults. Replacing lost fluids with rehydration salts and water is the most important treatment.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Advice on first aid. Fit for Travel. www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • First aid at work. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published October 2009
    • First aid on the road. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, published 13 January 2014
    • First aid. nidirect. www.nidirect.gov.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Frequently asked questions on first aid. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Anatomy of a first aid kit. American Red Cross. www.redcross.org, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Medical kit and toilet items. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published 2012
    • Foreign travel insurance. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. www.gov.uk, published 22 March 2013
    • Making a claim on your travel insurance. Citizens Advice Bureau. www.adviceguide.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • European health insurance card (EHIC) applications. Department of Health. www.gov.uk, accessed 28 March 2014
    • Exposure to blood or other body fluids. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published 2012
    • FAQs. NHS Blood and Transplant. www.blood.co.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Preventing accidents in the home – advice and tips. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. www.rospa.com, published 20 February 2012
    • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Travel health kit. Government of Canada. www.travel.gc.ca, published 26 March 2014
    • Altitude illness. National Travel Health Network and Centre. www.nathnac.org, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Taking medication abroad. nidirect. www.nidirect.gov.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Migraine. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published August 2013
    • Asthma. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published June 2011
    • Eczema – atopic. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published March 2013
    • Your rights at the airport. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, published 18 December 2013
    • Travelling with controlled drugs. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, published 8 November 2013
    • First aid advice. St John Ambulance. www.sja.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • First aid training. British Red Cross. www.redcross.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Wounds and bleeding. St John Ambulance. www.sja.org.uk, published 2012
    • Bleeding. St John Ambulance. www.sja.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Wound infection. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 6 January 2012
    • Non-contact infrared thermometers. Monitoring and Diagnosis in Oxford. www.madox.org, published 25 October 2012
    • Feverish illness in children: assessment and initial management in children younger than 5 years. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2013. www.nice.org.uk
    • Ill and feverish child. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 14 June 2013
    • Heatstroke. St John Ambulance. www.sja.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Accidents to children. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. www.rospa.com, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Turner S, Arthur G, Lyons RA, et al. Modification of the home environment for the reduction of injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 2. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003600.pub3
    • Child safety. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. www.rospa.com, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Advice for child travellers. Fit for Travel. www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk, accessed 14 March 2014
    • Tips for healthy travel with children. Government of Canada. www.travel.gc.ca, published 18 December 2013
    • Health risks from the sun. Fit for Travel. www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk, accessed 15 March 2014
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