First-aid kits - What should they include?

Most people don’t have a complete first-aid kit. And yet, we shouldn’t wait for an accident to occur before getting basic first-aid supplies! It’s always useful to have a well-stocked kit at home, at the cottage, in the car and at work.

Most people don’t have a complete first-aid kit. And yet, we shouldn’t wait for an accident to occur before getting basic first-aid supplies! It’s always useful to have a well-stocked kit at home, at the cottage, in the car and at work.

When buying a kit, those offered by St. John Ambulance and the Red Cross are usually quite complete and make for a good starter kit.

However, a lot of people prefer to put their kit together themselves. This can reduce the cost of the kit while also making it better tailored to individual needs (specific medical condition, location of use, etc.). Here are some basic principles to help guide you in putting together an effective and functional kit to meet your needs.

Basic principles

A first-aid kit should allow you to have the necessary supplies on-hand in case of a minor injury or health problem. Even though it is designed to serve in as many situations as possible, keep in mind that it will not necessarily enable you to intervene adequately in serious emergency situations, since its contents are rather limited. In such cases, it’s always best to call upon emergency services without delay.

Certain golden rules apply to first-aid kits. First, the kit should be stored away from heat and humidity, within easy reach for adults but out of the reach of children. Since the supplies must be easily accessible, avoid locking or laced closures. The contents must always be in good condition and inspected regularly (e.g. every six months). Make sure that the medication and materials are not expired and that you still have enough of everything.

While it is important to immediately replace any supplies you use in order to avoid unpleasant surprises in an emergency situation, even more important is to keep your first-aid knowledge up-to-date. The most fully stocked kit will be of no use to you in time of need without basic knowledge of the care required for the given situation. A first-aid course is therefore recommended, with a refresher every two years in order to keep your knowledge current.

Preparing your own kit

Choosing to put together your own kit will not only allow you to adapt it to your specific needs, but also to know its contents inside out, and therefore to spend less time looking for supplies if an emergency arises.

Regardless of the materials you choose to include in your kit, it is imperative that you understand the function of every product included so that you know how to use it effectively and avoid making any errors. The case chosen to hold the materials and instruments should suit the specific usage intended for that particular kit.

For the home and car, preferably opt for a resistant and waterproof material (e.g. a tackle box or a shallow food storage container) where the supplies are visible at a single glance. When travelling, opt for a zip-lock bag, which is easier to carry.

Basic supplies

Kits should include certain essential items. Ready-made kits usually include all these. If you choose to make your own first-aid kit, however, you can look on the Internet to find lists outlining the indispensable items to include so you can check that you haven’t forgotten anything important.

Basic items should include several types of bandages, dressings and compresses (sterile or non-sterile) to care for wounds, surgical gloves, an antiseptic product to clean minor wounds, a blanket in case of hypothermia, a pair of tweezers, scissors, and a booklet describing basic first-aid procedures and listing emergency phone numbers.

Depending on your training, it could be a great asset to include a resuscitation mask (also called a “pocket mask”) to be used when performing CPR on an unconscious individual. If you or your children suffer from severe allergies, you should also carry an adrenaline autoinjector system (Epipen® or Twinject®), to be used in case of an anaphylactic reaction to an insect bite (be aware, however, that you are not permitted by law to administer adrenaline to others unless they are your own underage children).

Specialized items

Basic supplies are not always enough and certain additional items may be indicated to ensure that you can respond to various situations. In order to truly adapt your kit to your needs, consider several factors: where it will be used (e.g. home, camping, abroad), the conditions inherent to the location (e.g. sun, mountains, health conditions), and the user’s planned activities (e.g. extreme sports, cycling, hiking in the forest).

Sensible additions to your kit can therefore include a flashlight, matches, a pocket-knife and a bottle opener – items that can prove useful when you’re away from home. If you plan on travelling to a sun destination or if you’re unsure of the health conditions there, it is a good idea to bring sugar and salt packets to treat dehydration, nylon mosquito netting to protect against insect bites, sterile syringes and needles (you must carry a letter justifying their use), as well as condoms when needed.

Medications of all classes are often an important element to add to your kit. Some virtually indispensable items include medication to relieve pain and fever, along with an antihistamine to control uncomfortable allergy symptoms.

Travellers in particular would be well-advised to carefully prepare this section of their kit in order to avoid unfortunate surprises abroad. For more exotic destinations, medication against traveller’s diarrhea is a must. Depending on your destination, it may prove important to see your doctor in order to get a prescription for antibiotics or an antimalarial drug.

Lastly, lots of sunblock, a water disinfectant, an insect repellent and a skin antiseptic are some other items that could complete a traveller’s first-aid kit.

This list is obviously not exhaustive and must be adapted to your needs. If you have any questions, your pharmacist can help you put together a personalized kit. Don’t hesitate to consult this health care professional before adding any medication to your basic kit, to make sure that it really is what you need. Checking with your pharmacist will help ensure that you have a safe kit that is tailored to your needs.

Finally, get in the habit of checking the contents of your kit and the expiry date of the products on a regular basis. If an emergency were to occur, it would be too late to run to the pharmacy to get the missing products or replace those that have expired!

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