There are many high quality, prepackaged first aid kits available in stores and online so for most it shouldn’t be difficult to find something that suits your needs. Just be sure the contents are “fresh” (yes, bandages and OTC meds do expire) and that you either have the training to use all the items within the kit or that it comes with a good manual.
Many of us want to break the mold and assemble our own first aid kit. Let’s dispel one myth right away: unless you and your friends buy in bulk and divide the spoils, it will be difficult to save money by building your own kit. If you’re undaunted by a the likelihood you won’t save money making your own then you’re ready to proceed.
What goes in a first aid kit? It depends. How many people is it for? How long is it intended to last? What is the level of medical training of the users? In what environment will it be used?
First, a word on training. Know your limits. There are many military inspired IFAK and other kits available on internet today that include bandages for sucking chest wounds, advanced airway kits including tracheostomy devices, scalpels, sutures, injection needles and surgical instruments. You can do harm with these items unless you are properly trained. If you or someone in your group isn’t experienced and trained with these advanced medical devices you may be spending a lot of money for no benefit.
One more question before we move on to contents. How many kits do you need? A first aid kit is no good if it’s not handy when needed and since you’re unlikely to wear it around your waist everywhere you go… Do you need one for the house, car, work, boat and cabin? We humbly suggest one for your house and another for your car. Many people transplant their car kits to other locations temporarily as needed.
Items for your DIY first aid kit below.
FEMA recommends the following for an all purpose first aid kit:
- Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
- 2-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
- 4-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
- Hypoallergenic adhesive tape
- Triangular bandages (3)
- 2-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
- 3-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
- Moistened towelettes
- Tongue blades (2)
- Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
- Assorted sizes of safety pins
- Cleansing agent/soap
- Latex gloves (2 pair) Sunscreen
- Aspirin or nonaspirin pain reliever
- Anti-diarrhea medication
- Antacid (for stomach upset)
- Syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the Poison Control Center)
- Activated charcoal (use if advised by the Poison Control Center)
The Red Cross makes the following recommendations.
- 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
- 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
- 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
- 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
- 5 antiseptic wipe packets
- 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
- 1 blanket (space blanket)
- 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
- 1 instant cold compress
- 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
- 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
- 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
- 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
- 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
- 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
- Oral thermometer (non-mercury/nonglass)
- 2 triangular bandages
- First aid instruction booklet
The Mayo Clinic has extensive first aid kit recommendations here.
And the American College of Emergency Physicians has a guide located here.
As you can see basic bandages, antiseptic wipes, gloves and a first aid guide are nearly universal recommendations. Items like sunscreen, pain relievers and instant ice for muskuloskeletal injuries or overheating are less popular but made my personal kit. If you use an autoinjector for epinephrine, are diabetic and need glucose because you might become hypoglycemic, require an inhaler for asthma or need any other critical medications, consider adding those items to your personal list.
One final thought. When is a first aid kit not enough? When do I need to call for professional medical help? “If you’re worried” is actually a good rule of thumb. When your gut tells you something is wrong trust your gut. We offer the following 10 suggestions to help you decide when someone needs emergency medical attention. (This does not constitute medical advice.)
1. Mechanism of injury. It doesn’t matter if a man who was just hit by a car gets up and wanders over to you to get some neosporin for a scrape on his elbow saying he’s fine. The forces involved in this man’s mechanism of injury are immense! There are many, many examples of people who feel “ok” immediately after sustaining what are ultimately life-threatening injuries. If the mechanism of injury in your scenario has been associated with fatal or serious outcomes in the past, a medical professional is needed – fast.
2. Altered consciousness. If someone is not fully alert (aware of where they are, who they are and the date) then something is wrong that nothing in a first aid kit is likely to fix. Drowsiness, altered speech, only opening eyes to pain or not at all and an inability to follow instructions despite being fully awake are all examples of altered consciousness. Seek help.
3. Loss of consciousness. Unless they’re a fainter and it is clear they passed out this person is likely to need urgent evaluation.
4. Deformity. When a joint or appendage is deformed, broken or swollen.
5. Dysfunction. If a finger, hand, foot or limb does not operate properly, is missing sensation or cannot be moved this demands emergency care. Same goes for our hearing, vision or sense of smell. Ear drums, the cribiform plate behind the nose and ocular orbit can all be fractured, as well as many other serious injuries, and can disrupt these senses. Hospital needed.
6. Bleeding that will not stop with direct pressure or requires a tourniquet to stop.
7. Significant cuts. May need cleaning and sutures.
8. Persons on blood thinners or with a bleeding disorder who suffer any form of trauma but especially injury to the head or abdomen need attention. People with serious internal bleeding may feel fine for hours before they become dangerously ill.
9. Stings, bites or envenomations that cause dizziness or shortness of breath or wheezing or hives or swelling of the extremity or rapid heart rate or fainting, etc. Allergies to bug stings can be very dangerous! Bites from possibly poisonous critters such as snakes deserve rapid attention.
10. Rapid breathing, painful breathing or shortness of breath.
11l. Poisonings. When someone ingests or inhales something potentially dangerous its time to call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) who in addition to offering immediate help will often advise further medical attention.
An incomplete list of reasons a first aid kit is only the first step and further medical attention is needed that is no substitute for medical advice but food for thought.
Consider getting trained in basic CPR. It save lives. Good luck with your DIY first aid kit!