First-aid kit

By Live Dr - Tue Sep 02, 1:55 pm

First-aid kit

first aid

Reviewed by Christine Clark, pharmacist  and Dr John Pillinger, GP

First-aid kit basics

A first-aid kit contains emergency supplies and medication for unexpected minor illnesses or accidents.

While it is vital for people who suffer from a chronic disease or condition to take their medication with them at all times, it is also a good idea for everyone to keep a first-aid kit in the home or car, or take one with them on holiday in case of emergencies.

If going abroad, talk to your doctor before leaving about arrangements for vaccinations or special medication such as malaria tablets.

Although it is possible to buy additional items for your first aid kit when you are abroad, it is a good safeguard to purchase extra supplies and medication before your departure. Emergency situations occur unexpectedly and you may find yourself unable to obtain essential items just when you need them most.

Remember that medicines suitable for adults are not always suitable for children as well. Always read the label to check who can take the medicines in your first-aid kit, and at what dose.

Motion sickness

Medication to prevent motion sickness caused by car, air or sea travel can be bought over the counter without prescription. If necessary, this should be taken before starting a journey.

Diarrhoea, irregular bowel movements or indigestion

It is a good idea to be prepared for diarrhoea. Medication to treat it is available both on prescription or over the counter at your local pharmacy.

If diarrhoea or vomiting occur despite these precautions you will need to make sure the patient gets enough liquid. This is especially important where children are concerned.

Cola drinks are particularly helpful since they replace essential salt and sugar as well as provide a source of liquid, but a first-aid kit should also contain a rehydration medicine (a powder or large tablet that is dissolved in clean water, for example Dioralyte) to prevent dehydration.

Many people get constipation when travelling. A mild laxative, available from a pharmacy, usually relieves most symptoms.

For people who suffer from indigestion or heartburn when eating spicy food, it is a good idea to keep a supply of antacid preparation in the first-aid kit.

Pain relievers

Aspirin (eg Aspro clear), paracetamol (eg Panadol) or ibuprofen (eg Nurofen) can be bought over the counter. They come in different forms including soluble tablets, ordinary tablets or suppositories, and can relieve headache, muscle pain, toothache and period pain. Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years of age, unless on the advice of a doctor.


Fever is most commonly caused by viruses that cannot be treated with antibiotics. Even though antibiotics can be bought in some countries without a prescription, they should be avoided. If antibiotics are necessary, a GP should be consulted. A doctor will be able to prescribe the appropriate antibiotics or other medication.


A sunblock to be applied prior to exposure to the sun should always be included in a first-aid kit, along with cream and lotion for use after sunbathing. The pharmacist should be consulted as to the appropriate screening (SPF-sun protection factor) level.

Insect bites

Antihistamines and soothing lotions such as calamine are effective at controlling the itching of insect bites or stings.

Cuts and grazes

The following items are all useful for treating minor cuts and grazes:

  • sticking plasters

  • cotton wool

  • safety pins

  • a gauze bandage and supportive bandages

  • antiseptic lotion or saline to clean wounds.

Do I need to take everything wherever I go?

There is no need to take everything with you. Indeed, a longer trip might require more supplies than a shorter one. Buy products in small sizes that fit easily into your luggage. Remember that all drugs have a ‘use by’ date and should be thrown away after they have expired.

Based on a text by Dr Per Grinsted, GP and Dr Erik Fangel Poulsen, specialist

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