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What Should I Look for in First Aid Kits?

In times of medical crisis, well-stocked first aid kits can help stop bleeding, cleanse wounds, stabilize injuries and provide instant pain relief. Poorly constructed first aid kits, on the other hand, may provide an assortment of bandages or antiseptics but little else. Having proper first aid kits in your home, car, or place of employment can make a medical emergency much more manageable until trained health care workers arrive. But what should these ideal first aid kits contain, and what items can be left out without compromising safety?

First of all, quality first aid kits don't have to be prohibitively expensive, but they can't be cheap either. Some manufacturers market low-end first aid kits at retail stores which are essentially repackaged bandages and antiseptics. Bandages and disinfecting agents are good to have on hand during emergencies, but their usefulness is limited. When it comes to first aid kits, the bare minimal set should start at $25 USD on average. These commercial kits should include gauze and tape, various bandage sizes, wound cleansers, pain relievers and anesthetic burn creams.

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For an average office or home, good first aid kits should be mountable in a convenient location, preferably near a source of clean water. Besides the essentials mentioned earlier, home first aid kits may also contain specific medicines for family members, such as inhalers or anti-histamine shots for insect or food allergies. Some first aid kits for offices may contain emergency contact information for stricken employees. Home health kits may be augmented with specialized emergency equipment such as an oxygen bottle with mask or automatic defibrillator kits for heart patients.

Some consumers may find it easier to build their own first aid kits instead of relying on commercial versions. Customized first aid kits may have other elements not commonly found in traditional versions. A supply of feminine sanitary napkins can be effective as bandages for head wounds or other areas prone to excessive bleeding. Hard candies or juice boxes can help prevent bad blood sugar reactions in diabetics or hypoglycemics. An extra pair of prescription glasses or contact lenses can replace ones broken in an accident.

So what can you leave out of most first aid kits without compromising safety? Hydrogen peroxide is a very common antiseptic in many kits, but recent studies suggest that the same bubbling action which kills dangerous germs can also negatively affect healthy germs sent by the body during healing. Syrup of Ipecac is often prescribed to induce immediate vomiting in poison victims, but the regurgitating action may be more harmful in the long run than the benefits of expelling the poisonous substance. Replace the syrup of ipecac with activated charcoal tablets and a supply of water. Iodine used as a wound cleanser in first aid kits may belong to the 'if it hurts, it must be working' school, but the exposure to iodine raises questions of toxicity. Use generous amounts of clean water and sterile gauze for wound cleansing, and leave the disinfecting up to professional health care workers.

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