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home : columns : ask the doctors July 11, 2020

5/4/2020 7:43:00 AM
Every home needs a personalized first-aid kit

Dear Doctor: Now that it's harder see a doctor or go to the emergency room, I want to beef up our first-aid kit. What should we have on hand?

Dear Reader: We're big fans of maintaining a well-stocked first-aid kit and agree that having the right supplies on hand is particularly important right now. We'll go a step further and suggest that you keep an edited version of the home kit in each car.

Your first step is to identify your family's specific needs. If someone has a food allergy or a respiratory condition, such as asthma, you'll want to stock extras of the medications you use to manage those conditions. Be sure to clearly mark each medication with its expiration date.

When it comes to general items, think in terms of the types of medical situations that require prompt attention. These include skin injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, burns, rashes and splinters; mishaps such as pulled muscles or strained ligaments; infections such as a sore throat or a cold; and common allergic reactions such as poison oak, poison ivy and insect stings. Buy the products you're familiar with and that you've had success with in the past.

We also think it's wise to invest in a good first-aid handbook, which will guide you through the diagnosis and treatment of the mishaps that can occur at home. Leaf through it before stowing it with your gear. Knowing in advance how to approach a burn, cut or sprain will lessen everyone's stress during an emergency, and it will improve the quality of the first-aid care you're rendering. Make learning the ropes a family enterprise so everyone can help each other.

First-aid supplies for a family of four should include:

-- 25 adhesive bandages of assorted sizes

-- Antibiotic ointment and antiseptic wipes

-- Aspirin

-- An instant cold compress

-- 2 absorbent compress dressings

-- 1 adhesive cloth tape

-- Nonlatex gloves to be worn when dealing with blood or bodily fluids

-- Hydrocortisone ointment

-- A pair of scissors and a set of tweezers

-- A 3-inch and a 4-inch roller bandage

-- 10 sterile gauze pads (3-by-3 inches and 4-by-4 inches)

-- An oral thermometer that is not glass and does not contain mercury -- and if your thermometer uses batteries, be sure to stock extras

Additional items you may consider include antacid tablets, antidiarrhea meds, a bee-sting kit, a small mirror and blunt-tip scissors. Store everything in a waterproof container that's easy to open and easy to carry. Something with separate compartments is best so you can easily see and reach the items you need. Use one of the compartments for the family-specific items we talked about earlier. Bathrooms tend to be damp environments, so store your supplies somewhere else, such as a linen closet or kitchen pantry.

Finally, be sure to set up and maintain a first-aid kit checklist. You'll use this to replenish supplies as you use them, and to keep track of all medications with expiration dates. This is also a good spot to include all of the emergency phone numbers you rely on.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your questions to, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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