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What are 7 Essential First Aid Kit Items?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on May 10, 2023.

Official answer


1. Pain Medication for Headaches, Back Pain, And Ankle Sprains

If you were allowed only ONE thing in your first aid kit or cabinet, then a medication to combat pain would have to be it.

So many different conditions and most injuries cause pain, so you'll find yourself reaching for these several times a year if not more.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the most basic pain medication. It has few interactions, barely any side effects, and is generally safe for most people to take. Be sure to take only the recommended dose, because too much can be toxic to the liver.

Anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) treat pain and have the bonus of calming down inflammation. However, they are more likely than acetaminophen to interact with other medications or not be suitable for people with certain conditions, such as asthma, kidney disease, or stomach ulcers.

2. Relief From Indigestion, Heart Burn, Or Dyspepsia

Fatty, greasy, or spicy foods can play havoc with your digestion. So can eating too much food, too fast. This is why keeping a bottle of Maalox or a packet of Tums in your cabinet for occasional indigestion relief is not a bad idea.

However, any symptoms of heartburn, bloating, or stomach discomfort that occur regularly, regardless of what you eat, need to be checked out by a doctor. Indigestion is a symptom of several conditions, some more serious than others.

3. Keep A Cough Suppressant Like Dextromethorphan Handy For A Dry Cough

Cough! Cough! Cough... Cough! Cough! Cough... Arrrgggghhhh!

Uncontrollable coughing, especially at night can be exasperating for your whole household. So endless praise will be reaped upon you if you happen to have a cough suppressant like dextromethorphan right there in your medicine cabinet to put a stop to the coughing.

Just make sure that the person with the dry cough doesn't have any other worrying symptoms. If they are short of breath, a young child, or have a fever it is best to seek medical attention right away.

Coughs that sound more chesty are best soothed by expectorants such as guaifenesin (Mucinex) which will help make it easier to cough phlegm up.

4. Loperamide: Quick Relief From The Bathroom Trots

Diarrhea, unfortunately, has a habit of occurring without much warning. Causes are numerous - from viral illnesses, food poisoning, and food intolerances, to antibiotics, just to name a few. Save yourself a potentially disastrous dash to get medicine by having an anti-diarrheal right on hand.

Medications such as loperamide (Imodium A-D), bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), and diphenoxylate (Lomotil [prescription-only]) all help control diarrhea, buying you more time to get to the bathroom. Anti-diarrheal medications are not always suitable for everyone, so plan and check with your doctor or pharmacist that they are suitable for you, should you ever need them.

5. Basic Wound Dressings For Cuts And Grazed Limbs

Injuries around the home are common, so keep a few wound dressings and other products on hand to enable you to perform some basic first aid on a wound before deciding if it needs more professional attention.

Most wound care experts recommend either saline (a concentration of 0.9% salt in water) or a commercial wound cleanser that is gentle on healing wound tissue. Once the wound is clean, cover it with a breathable dressing or gauze. Keep a few different types of dressings in your medicine cabinet; your pharmacist can advise you about the purpose of each one. Antibiotic creams like Neosporin should only be used if prescribed by a doctor, but topical antiseptic agents may be applied after cleansing.

If your wound is severe or looks infected you will need to see your doctor for professional treatment.

6. A Soothing Skin Cream For Skin Rashes, Dermatitis, And Mild Eczema

Our skin is an amazing organ but it is also reasonably sensitive. Contact with chemicals, certain plants, or concrete pavements can easily disrupt its natural protective function.

Having a soothing skin cream on hand like topical hydrocortisone provides instant relief and will relieve the urge to scratch which will make your rash worse. Just use a small amount, but see a doctor if the rash starts to look bright red, oozing or infected, or persists for more than a couple of days. Topical hydrocortisone should only be used in young babies under a doctor's advice.

If you develop a rash after taking a medicine, contact your doctor immediately because this may signal a serious allergic reaction to that medicine.

7. Antihistamine Tablets For Hay Fever, Allergies, and Insect Bites

More than 10% of the US population is affected by hay fever, with ragweed being the most common cause. Even if you don't suffer yourself, a future visitor may do, so keep a packet of antihistamines in your first aid kit.

Oral antihistamines are also more useful than antihistamine bite creams for providing relief from itching after multiple insect bites. They are perfect to have on hand for any mild allergic reactions, but always see a doctor if the reaction appears to be getting worse or other symptoms such as difficulty breathing or facial swelling occur.

Non-sedating antihistamines (those that don't make you sleepy), such as fexofenadine (Allegra) or loratadine (Claritin) are best if you need to go to school, work, or drive a vehicle. Alternatively, sedating antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be used to help you sleep better at night.