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Basic Contents of a First Aid Kit

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/18/2011

Having a first aid kit on hand at home or on the road gives you an extra measure of safety. With the right first aid kit contents, you can treat minor injuries and provide basic care for an injured person before emergency personnel arrive.

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    The American Red Cross recommends adding at least two absorbent compress dressings to your first aid kit. These dressings absorb drainage from wounds, protect the tissue around wounds from additional damage and protect wounds from infectious organisms. Select the 5-by-9-inch dressings to accommodate wounds of several sizes.

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    Keep aspirin in your first aid kit in case someone has an injury that causes pain and inflammation. Aspirin contains acetylsalicylic acid, which binds to an enzyme known as cylooxygenase-2. Cylooxygenase-2 causes pain when the cells produce it in large quantities. When the acetylsalicylic acid binds to this substance, it prevents the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This leads to less pain and inflammation. Aspirin also thins the blood, so it has some use in preventing death or serious complications after heart attack.

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    Adhesive Bandages

    Adhesive bandages, more popularly known as Band-Aids, come in a variety of sizes for use in several types of injuries. The smallest sizes cover wounds on the fingers and other small wounds. Larger adhesive bandages provide protection for larger wounds. Using these bandages protects wounds from infection and additional tissue damage.

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    First Aid Manual

    Every first aid kit should include a manual or instruction book, especially if you have not completed any first aid training. A comprehensive manual gives detailed instructions for providing first aid for burns, cuts, stings and more serious medical situations.

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    Antibiotic Ointment

    Antibiotic ointments keep wounds clean and most, which prevents infection and speeds healing time. Some ointments also reduce scarring from skin wounds. Common brands include Ultra Mide and Neosporin, but several generic store brands provide adequate protection. Use caution when giving first aid to someone with stitches. Some doctors recommend that you avoid the use of antibiotic ointments on areas that have stitches.

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    Breathing Barrier

    Your first aid kit contents should prepare you to carry out rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in case of a serious emergency. A breathing barrier allows you to give rescue breaths without having to put your mouth in direct contact with the recipient’s mouth. This prevents the spread of communicable diseases.

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    Adhesive Cloth Tape

    Adhesive cloth type has several first aid uses. This tape secures medical equipment to the skin to prevent it from slipping or falling off. This type of tape also allows you immobilize body areas affected by minor injuries. For example, you could immobilize a sprained ankle with adhesive cloth tape.

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    Antiseptic Wipes

    One of the most important aspects of providing first aid for wounds is to prevent infection. Infected wounds take longer to heal, and untreated infection can get into the bloodstream and cause a serious condition called sepsis. Antiseptic wipes contain substances that prevent infection. Use them to clean cuts, scrapes and other wounds.

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    Non-Latex Gloves

    Anyone who provides first aid should wear gloves to prevent contact with blood and other body fluids. This reduces the risk of disease transmission from the first aid recipient to the first aid provider. Include non-latex first aid gloves in your first aid kit. This allows you to protect yourself without harming someone who has an allergy to latex.

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    Instant Cold Compress

    Several injuries benefit from the application of ice directly to the injured area. Because ice isn’t always available, an instant cold pack gives you the ability to apply cold to the injury. Instant cold packs contain two bags. One has water and one has ammonium nitrate. When you break the bag with the water in it, the ammonium nitrate dissolves. This lowers the temperature of the pack by absorbing heat from the environment.

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    Tweezers allow you to remove splinters and other debris from wounds. This tool also comes in handy when you need to remove tiny pieces of dirt from wounds or remove a tick that has attached itself to the skin. After using these tweezers, sterilize them carefully and put them back into the first aid kit.

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    Oral Thermometer

    Add an oral thermometer to your first aid kit so you can easily check a person’s temperature while administering first aid. This piece of equipment is particularly useful when someone exhibits signs of infection or has a traumatic injury. If you use a digital thermometer, check it regularly to make sure it is in good working order.

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    Scissors belong in every first aid kit because of their many first aid uses. If you need to cut a bandage or piece of gauze to fit an injury, you can use scissors to do so. In some emergencies, it is necessary to cut away the injured person’s clothing for direct access to the wound.

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    Add a blanket to your first aid kit for use in cases of hypothermia or frostbite. You can also use a blanket to put out some fires. Blankets designed specifically for first aid use help the body retain more heat, so consider purchasing a first aid blanket.

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    Roller Bandages

    Roller bandages consist of elastic or gauze material wound into the shape of a cylinder. Available in a variety of lengths and widths, these bandages have use in wrapping injuries and protecting them from further damage.

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    Sterile Gauze Pads

    Sterile gauze pads have several uses in first aid. These squares of fabric absorb body fluids and cushion wounds. They are also useful for applying liquids and ointments such as iodine, rubbing alcohol and antibiotic ointments. Sterile gauze pads draw excess moisture away from wounds, which prevents a condition known as maceration. Maceration occurs when moisture causes damage to the skin around a wound.

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    Hydrocortisone Ointment

    One of the first aid kit contents that help in cases of stings and bites is hydrocortisone cream. Applied directly to the skin, this cream reduces swelling, itching and redness at the site of a bite, sting or allergic skin reaction. You should not apply this cream to the skin of anyone who has shingles, chickenpox, tuberculosis or measles. The most common side effects of this cream include skin irritation, itching, dryness and a burning sensation.