First Aid Kits

What should be in a first aid kit?


Every home should have a first aid kit, which as a minimum should include the following essential items:

Waterproof Plasters

  • Quantity – a good selection of different sizes
  • Use – for most minor wounds
  • When to use – If there is a bleeding wound that is fairly small in size, an adhesive dressing should be used. If the wound is larger than the pad of the plaster, or is deep, use a sterile dressing instead and seek medical advice as it may need cleaning or stitching. If you’re working in food preparation, use a blue plaster so you will be able to see it if it drops in the food.
  • How to use – Minor wounds can be washed with water first, padded dry with gauze, then the adhesive dressing should be stuck over the top. Do not use if the casualty is allergic to the adhesive strip. Plasters and adhesive dressings should not be left on for more than seven hours at a time. After that time, remove and assess the wound. If necessary, it can be washed and a new dressing applied to keep it free from infection.
  • Top tip – a small number of people may be allergic to the adhesive strip, which could cause irritation. If you’re applying one to a family member, you may be aware of this. If it’s someone you don’t know, ask them first.

Sterile Eye Pads

  • B0004737 First aid boxQuantity – 2
  • Use – for minor eye injuries
  • When to use – if the wound is small, or the casualty has a foreign object in their eye, such as dirt or grit, but it’s not embedded, you can apply an eye pad or small dressing. If the dirt or grit doesn’t clear, seek medical advice. An eye pad should really only be used as a stop-gap until a trained medical professional can see it. Alternatively, they can be safely used if there’s a small cut to the eyelid. However, if the casualty has a serious eye wound, or there’s something embedded in the eye, get urgent medical help and do not apply an eye pad. If you do, you could make the problem worse.
  • How to use – place the pad lightly over the eye and secure some bandage around the head using a knot or with tape (if you have some available). Make sure the eye pad is not applied too tightly and that you don’t apply too much pressure on the eye socket.

Crepe Bandage

  • Quantity – 1
  • Use – for a sprain or strain
  • When to use – it’s mainly used for a sprained or strained ankle or wrist. First treat the injury with an ice pack to reduce swelling. After 10-12 minutes, remove the ice pack for a few minutes then re-apply. If the swelling does not go down, it could be a break and you should seek medical advice as you may need an X-ray. If you think it’s just a strain, and some of the swelling has gone down as a result of applying the ice pack, apply a crepe bandage for support.
  • How to use – it’s generally applied in a figure of eight. For example, on an ankle you would start at the base of the leg (above the heel), make two turns, then take the bandage inside the instep of the foot and begin the figure of eight. The heel stays exposed. If the sprain or strain is to the wrist, you can simply wrap the bandage around the wrist in a circle. If the bandage came with clips, secure it with these. Alternatively, you can use tape or safety pins.
  • Top tip – don’t wrap the bandage too tightly. It’s there to provide support, so don’t cut off circulation. If there is still considerable pain 24 hours later, seek medical advice.

Triangular Bandages (Sling)

  • Quantity – 4
  • Use – to lift a limb
  • When to use – you can use a triangular bandage in different ways: as a sling to lift a limb to prevent blood loss, to secure a fractured collar bone or hand, and also as a ‘broad-fold bandage’ for sprains and strains if a crepe bandage isn’t available.
  • How to use – if there’s an injury to the lower or upper arm, you can also make an arm sling, tied at the neck. Triangular bandages can also be folded into a ‘broad-fold bandage’ by folding the point towards the base, then in half again. This can be used as a supporting bandage if a crepe bandage isn’t available. This can be secured with tape or safety pins. It can also be used to strap the arm to the body if the arm is broken, or to strap one leg to the other as a splint.
  • Top tip – when using as a sling, always make sure the point of the bandage goes to the elbow, otherwise it’s the wrong way round.

Medium Sterile Dressing Pads

  • Quantity – 6
  • Use – when a plaster is too small
  • When to use – these pads are wound dressings. When you open them up, there is a roll of bandage attached so you can secure them into place. They cover most common wounds and should be used whenever a plaster is too small. The dressing applies firm pressure on the wound.
  • How to use – make sure the pad covers the entire wound. When you wrap the bandage part of the dressing (which is attached to the pad) around the wound, make sure you seal each end of the pad with it to stop infections entering the wound, and stop blood seeping out. The bandage should be secured by tying in a knot, above the wound if possible, which will apply more pressure.
  • Top tip – if the wound is severe, apply the dressing and seek medical advice. A doctor or nurse can then clean and re-dress the wound, and possibly stitch it if necessary. If blood soaks through the dressing, don’t remove it. Take a large dressing and apply it over the top as a second layer, otherwise clotting (which has started to take place) will be disturbed.

Large Sterile Dressing Pads

  • Quantity – 2
  • Use – for dressing large wounds
  • When to use – these pads are large wound dressings. When you open them up, there is a roll of bandage attached so you can secure them into place. They cover most common wounds and should be used whenever a plaster is too small. It applies firm pressure to the wound.
  • How to use – make sure the pad covers the wound and that the bandage part of the dressing seals each end of the pad. If the wound is severe, put the dressing on and seek medical advice. A doctor or nurse can then clean and re-dress the wound, and possibly stitch it if necessary.
  • Top tip – if there is a significant amount of bleeding, lay the casualty down and apply a bandage. Raise the casualty’s legs so that blood flows to the heart, and seek medical attention. If the casualty loses consciousness, put them in the recovery position. If they stop breathing you should begin the ‘ABC’ resuscitation procedure.

Sterile Gloves

  • Quantity – 1 pair
  • Use – to protect the casualty and first-aider
  • When to use – these protect the casualty if the first-aider’s hands are dirty, and they protect the first-aider if the casualty is bleeding. Sterile gloves should be used wherever possible when dealing with blood or bodily fluids.
  • How to use – disposal is important: if there is blood or bodily fluids on the gloves, take one off first and screw it up inside the remaining glove. Next, turn this glove inside out and tie a knot in the end before disposing of safely.
  • Top tip – gloves are usually available in small, medium, large and extra large. Make sure you have the right size to fit you in your first aid kit.

Paramedic Scissors

  • Quantity – 1 pair
  • Use – to safely cut clothing off
  • When to use – these are used for cutting clothing to get at a wound or the site of a fracture. They are safety scissors so you can’t jab them into somebody’s leg by accident – there is no danger of cutting the skin.
  • How to use – only use if you need to expose the site of an injury. If the wound is on the arm or leg, cut along the seam of the trouser leg or shirt, and on a side away from the wound.
  • Top tip – always tell someone you are going to cut their clothing before you do it.

Alcohol Free Wipes

  • Quantity – 6
  • Use – to clean grazes if water is not available
  • When to use – these are used to clean grazes and minor wounds when water is not available.
  • How to use – wipe the wound once, then dispose of the wipe. Take another one and repeat. If somebody has a wound and you wipe it from top to bottom, whatever is on top is now pushed into the wound. Always wipe away from the wound, otherwise you could introduce an infection.
  • Top tip – tap water is the best thing to clean a wound, but if there’s no water available, an alcohol free wipe is better than nothing.

Safety Pins

  • Quantity – 6
  • Use – to secure a bandage or sling
  • When to use – safety pins can be used to secure a crepe bandage, or for securing a sling on the elbow.

Here’s a shopping list for a basic first aid kit:

  • 2 sterile eye pads
  • 1 crepe bandage
  • 4 triangular bandages
  • 6 medium sterile dressing pads
  • 2 large sterile dressing pads
  • Assorted waterproof plasters
  • 2 pairs sterile gloves
  • 1 pair paramedic scissors
  • 6 alcohol-free wipes
  • 6 safety pins


> Visit Professor Hallux’s Map of Medicine homepage
> Download the free Map of Medicine podcast from iTunes