Creating a First Aid Kit

Health, Home & Family
on December 25, 2005

Emergency preparedness begins at home, and one of the first lines of defense is having a first aid kit. Each family should have at least one and parents can involve children in gathering supplies that might be needed in the event of a natural disaster or scraped knee.

Most of the time, a first aid kit is used for minor injuries, but it also can be the first step in medical care before a trip to the emergency room. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, of the 113.9 million visits to hospital emergencies rooms in 2003, 40.2 million were injury related. You can be prepared by creating your own first aid kit using a cardboard box, lunch box or plastic bag.

“It’s good to custom-make your own first aid kit,” says Kary Weybrew, a registered nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Maryville, Mo. (pop. 10,581), explaining that your kit should include medication if you or a family member is allergic to insect bites or specific foods, or has diabetes or seizures.

Weybrew created her first aid kit when her daughter was born. Today, her family—husband Syd, daughter Ashley, 12 and son, Brendan, 9—maintains three first aid kits in different locations. A small cardboard box is stored in a drawer in their upstairs bathroom, a mid-size box travels with them in the car, and for football games or practices, a large plastic tackle box contains all the essentials.

Important items for a household first aid kit include: latex gloves, alcohol pads, Band-Aids, sterile gauze pads, roller gauze, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers, sterilized needles, burn gel and a flashlight.

“These things don’t always happen during the daytime,” Weybrew says, adding that a home first aid kit should be stored in a convenient place, but out of the reach of small children.

Many times an injury occurs away from home, at the playground or a family picnic. Make your first aid kit for the car more extensive than a kit at home, where running water and other items are readily available.

For your car, include everything in the home kit, plus: antiseptic wash to clean cuts and scrapes; a gallon-size plastic bag should someone get motion sick; a blanket or towel for warmth as well as to control excessive bleeding; and a cold pack to reduce swelling of sprains, fractures and injured muscles.

“Buy a cold pack that does not need refrigeration—one you break—if you need to use it,” Weybrew says. “This type lasts 10 to 15 minutes.”

If you know how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a breathing barrier is a sensible device to have in your first aid kit. A CPR breathing barrier—available at most pharmacies—is a plastic mouthpiece that protects you and the cardiac or respiratory arrest victim from transmitting germs during the potentially life-saving procedure.

Actually, you should know how to use each item in your first aid kit. It’s also a good idea to periodically restock the contents of your kit and review basic first aid procedures. “A first aid kit is one component of a total disaster-preparedness kit,” says Dr. Margaret A. Dolan of Richmond, Va. “It’s not enough to have a first aid kit, you have to know how to use it.”

First aid and CPR training workshops often are available through your local hospital. You also can increase your emergency medical knowledge and treatment skills through an American Red Cross training course or with the organization’s publication First Aid Fast, which is available for $5. For more information, visit

Weybrew recalls one day when her traveling first aid kit was invaluable. “It was Fourth of July at a campground,” she recalls. “My family and I were with friends who had lit some hand-held fireworks. One of our friends received a burn from a short fuse. We were fortunate that a bathroom was close by, so we first applied cold water to the wound, then I applied Solarcaine with aloe vera throughout the evening.”

Without the burn gel, the injury would have not only caused severe pain, but might have ruined the evening.

Each family should have a first aid kit, primarily for the physical aspect of medical care, but also for psychological reasons.

“Sometimes a first aid kit is a little TLC, a little reassurance,” Weybrew says. “What’s happening is traumatic for little kids. Using a first aid kit is something to calm them down.”

The American Red Cross suggests a basic household first aid kit should include:

(20) Adhesive bandages, various sizes

(1) 5-inch-by-9-inch sterile dressing

(1) Roller gauze bandage

(2) Triangular bandages

(2) 3-inch-by-3-inch sterile gauze pads

(2) 4-inch-by-4-inch sterile gauze pads

(1) Roll 3-inch cohesive bandage

(2) Germicidal hand wipes or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer

(6) Antiseptic wipes

(2) Pair large medical grade non-latex gloves

Adhesive tape, 2-inch width

Antibacterial ointment

Cold pack

Scissors (small, personal)


CPR breathing barrier