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First aid is quite simply just that. When someone suffers an injury or sudden illness, it is the first course of treatment, or aid, given to that person to ensure that they are safe and comfortable. Only after first aid has been administered and a person still seems unwell, should further action be taken (a visit to the pharmacist, doctor or calling an emergency ambulance).
What Do I Need to Know?
On the most part, first aid brings to mind putting plasters on grazed knees - however, there is much more to it than the ability to stick something over a portion of human that's leaking a bit of blood. Most people know what to do when someone suffers a minor cut or bump, however, what about accidents or illnesses that could be far more serious, even life-threatening? In order to be prepared for these (hopefully) unlikely events, having taken a first aid course is more than helpful. First aid courses are often conducted by local schools and colleges and it's recommended that you try and attend these to keep your first aid knowledge up to date. You should also have a first aid kit somewhere in the house, stocked up and at the ready. When confronted with someone who is sick or injured, you need to be able to stay calm and find out what the matter is. If you feel confident enough to administer some form of aid, do so.
Further treatment can be performed at a later time by trained health care professionals.
How Do I Make a First Aid Kit?
A good first aid kit can be purchased with most necessary items already included from any good pharmacy - however, you can add to what is supplied and/or make up your own personal kit. Every individual has different needs according to their environment and personal life, so while you can follow the advice about a first aid kit and its contents, it is worth remembering that you might need to add other items vital for your own circumstances. Some people suffer from ailments such as asthma or diabetes, or have life-threatening allergies. If you're one of these people, make sure your first aid kit contains everything you need in case of an emergency associated with these illnesses/allergies.
If you have a first aid manual, keep it near the kit. If you don't have a manual - get one. A good first aid manual will show you how to do everything - from applying dressings and slings, to how to perform CPR1. It is important to have an up-to-date first aid manual, as methods and medications change. In the manual, and also on a piece of card in the kit, important information like emergency telephone numbers, blood groups, dates of inoculations (such as tetanus, MMR, hepatitis, etc), allergies to medications and any other specialist information is listed. These could be vital in the event of an emergency situation. It is also advisable to put all this information in a prominent place aside from the first aid kit. This way, if anyone who is unable to use a first aid kit can find contact numbers for emergency services and any other information that may be needed.
A first aid kit should be clearly marked First Aid. The current international symbol for first aid is a white cross on a green background (other indicators for first aid include the traditional red cross symbol on a white background and vice versa). Proper identifying marks on the kit are vital, not only so you know what it is, but also if anyone else needs to help you in your own home they can find the kit with ease. This also means you should always keep the kit in a handy place, but out of the reach of children. High-up kitchen cupboards are ideal, as it is the law of averages that you will need your first aid kit most when someone is in the bathroom! It is a fact that most accidents do occur in the home, usually in the kitchen. If you make your own kit, ensure it's in a waterproof container with separate compartments for dressings, as well as sterile items and medications. A tackle-box of the sort that anglers use is ideal. Remember - a first aid kit is only as good as what you keep in it.
If you use anything, replace it immediately. Also make sure you check the use-by dates of any medication or item every six months, and update them if necessary. Important: Dispose of any out of date medication in the proper manner. If unsure how to dispose of medication, return it to either a local pharmacist or GP.
What Should a First Aid Kit Contain?
A first aid kit should contain the following:
Adhesive dressings (sticking plasters) - Used for minor cuts and grazes and can be bought in boxes of various shape, size and types. These include waterproof, fabric, hypo-allergenic, antiseptic and for children there are character based sticking plasters (eg, Winnie the Pooh, Spider-Man or Barbie). Keep at least one box in the first aid kit and another in a medicine cabinet as they are used frequently.
Bandages - For protection of wound dressings. Bandages come in various sizes and types, the most common being crepe or gauze. Keep at least three of each sort in a first aid kit, these being triangular bandages (which are also useful in making slings) and roll bandages (which are rolled around dressings to provide support to injuries). Other variants include TubiGrip, which is a tubed bandage designed to support an injury.
Cling film - Apply to serious burns liberally to keep the wound away from open air. This assists in pain relief and keeps burns from becoming infected. Seek immediate professional help after a serious burn has occurred.
Cotton balls/wool - Wet with water, useful for cleaning wounds. Do not apply cotton wool directly to wounds as the fibre will become stuck.
Cotton buds - Useful in cleaning wounds or removing obvious foreign bodies.
Sanitary towels/pads - Useful as a dressing pad.
Slings - A triangular piece of fabric used to support affected limb injuries. Two or more are needed.
Sterile dressings - Non-adherent 'ouchless' dressings (some come with antiseptic added), gauze (light fabric squares used as dressings) and swabs (used to clean wounds). Keep lots of these.
Tampons - Useful for stemming blood-flow from puncture wounds (animal bites) and if cut in half are extremely effective for relieving epistaxis (nosebleed).
Adhesive tape - Micropore, Transpore or Elastoplast. A roll of each type is recommended as it used to hold dressings in place, but has many other uses.
Medi-Prep Wipes - Contained in small sachets and are useful to assist in the sterilisation of wound areas or with safety pins/tweezers for extraction of foreign objects.
Disposable gloves - For the first aider's use only. Keeps your hands clean and prevents cross-infection.
Frozen gel pack - Invaluable in reducing swelling/bruising. Place the cold pack in a cloth towel and apply to the injury. Frozen peas are also excellent for this purpose, as the packet will mould to the body. While this item is not actually kept in your first aid kit - it is a necessity2.
Measuring cup/spoon - For the measuring of medication given to children.
Scissors - For cutting anything - clothing, strips of gauze, dressings, tape.
Safety pins - Vital in pinning slings, but can also be used to remove foreign bodies if sterilised3.
Splints - Vital in keeping potentially broken digits or limbs in place. Small finger-splints and applicators are available for finger injuries4.
Thermometer - For measuring body temperature. Various thermometers are available, the timpanic being most accurate. This is placed in the ear, but can be an expensive addition to a first aid kit. The oral digital thermometer is best. Reasonably-priced, it can be placed under the tongue or arm for a approximate temperature reading. Forehead strip thermometers are also available, but these are notoriously inaccurate.
Tweezers - For the removal of obvious foreign bodies (splinters, bee-stings, etc).
Medications do not necessarily need to be contained within a first aid kit. However, they can be helpful, so should be kept in a medicine cabinet at least. Important - when administering medication, read all labels, check use-by-dates and consult your first aid manual or a trained first aider/health professional.
Analgesic tablets or capsules - Paracetamol, Ibuprofen or Aspirin5. For children, include some sachets of Calpol or other paracetamol-based suspensions. These are invaluable in reducing pain and fevers. Ensure you have some soluble analgesics too, as these are helpful for reducing the pain of throat infections like tonsillitis.
Antihistamine cream - For insect bites and stings. Helps reduce the swelling and pain after being stung by a bee or wasp.
Antihistamine tablets - To help reduce the effects of allergic reactions.
Antiseptic solution - For instance TCP/Betadine. Helps to clean a wound of bacteria. Useful if the injury has occurred on something like glass or metal, which could lead to Tetanus.
Calamine Lotion - For the relief of itch from sunburn or rash from insects/plants.
Petroleum Jelly - Such as vaseline (alternatively, a water-based lubricant like KY Jelly). Assists in the removal of rings and so forth from swollen digits and has a variety of other uses6.
Hopefully, if your first aid kit comprises most of the above items, you'll be ready for almost any incident. Some items that you may use more regularly, like analgesia, sticking plasters and thermometers, may find a more suitable place inside a medicine cabinet, in fact all the items listed could, and perhaps should live there too. However, if little Timmy from number 14 trips on the curb, it's easier to grab your first aid kit and run to him, than to drag screaming, crying, blubbering Timmy inside so you can get to your medicine cabinet.
If you are a vehicle owner, try to make a first aid kit to keep in the vehicle at all times, even if it's not mandatory in the country you live in. It doesn't have to be as comprehensive as a home kit, but should contain at least some dressings, bandages, slings, scissors, tape and analgesia. If you plan to travel, make up a first aid kit relevant to your trip. It's all very well taking some bandages along on a hiking trip, but if you are in the middle of the Australian outback it may have been wiser to pack some insect repellent instead of the extra tube of toothpaste...
Remember, it is better to have and not use, than to not have and need.
What Do I Do in an Emergency?
First and foremost try and remain calm. The last thing anyone needs is someone else injuring themselves or behaving like a chicken without a head. Assess the situation, take any necessary action such as first aid or CPR, and call the emergency services:
- Australia - 000
- Europe - 112
- North America - 911
- UK7 - 999