Tens of thousands of South African children die every year, as a result of drowning, burns, poisoning and falls from bunk beds, roofs, roller skates and skateboards.
“South Africa’s most common first-aid emergencies include accidental injuries like minor cuts and lacerations, foreign objects in fingers and feet, muscle sprains, strains and cramps, burns, chemicals or foreign objects in the eye, poisoning, and asthma attacks,” says Linda Buys, a qualified nurse and author of The Illustrated South African First-Aid Manual.
Some of the most common accidents that can happen at home include:
- Burns and scalds
- Cuts and grazes
- Ingesting chemicals
- Insect bites.
So what essentials should you have in your first-aid kit, so you’re prepared for situations where urgent treatment for an injury is required – or when professional medical care is either unavailable or unnecessary?
Arrive Alive paramedics suggest that the critical contents of an emergency medical kit are items to treat burn wounds, cuts and bruises, and fractures, as well as items such as splints, plasters and bandages, scissors, tweezers, medical gloves for your own safety, lotions for bites and stings, and disinfectant.
MedicineNet says your first-aid kit should include the following basics:
- Adhesive and duct tape, to hold a dressing or splint in place.
- ‘Butterfly’ bandages, to hold the edges of a cut together.
- Non-stick sterile bandages, for simple cuts or abrasions.
- Sterile gauze, to control bleeding and prevent contamination.
- Sterile roller bandages, to support sprained or sore muscles.
- Anti-itch lotion, for relief of insect bites, itching and minor skin irritations.
- Antibiotic ointment, to prevent infection of minor wounds.
- Antiseptic ointment, solution, spray or wipes, for cleaning wounds.
- Cotton wool, cotton balls, and cotton buds or swabs.
- Disposable non-latex medical gloves (several pairs).
The Mayo Foundation suggests adding the following to your first-aid kit as well:
- Eye shield or pad.
- Eyewash solution.
- Triangular bandage.
- Sterile burn gel and burn dressings.
- Aluminium finger splint.
- Instant cold packs.
- Plastic bags, assorted sizes.
- Safety pins, assorted sizes.
- Scissors and tweezers.
- Hand sanitiser.
- Bulb suction device for flushing wounds.
- Syringe, medicine cup or spoon.
- CPR mouthpiece (breathing barrier).
- Aloe vera gel.
- Calamine lotion.
- Anti-diarrhoea medication.
- Pain relievers.
- Hydrocortisone cream.
- Cough and cold medications.
The required quantity of these items depends on the size of your family, but your pharmacist can guide you.
- Small waterproof torch.
- Batteries and spares.
- Waterproof matches.
- Small notepad and pencil.
- Emergency space blanket.
- Emergency whistle.
You can add your own medications to your first-aid kit. If you do, the American National Red Cross has the following advice for you:
- Don’t share your personal prescription medication with others, even if they use the same medication.
- Mark any headache, pain relief, anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medication accordingly, and store it in a childproof container.
- Ensure that only responsible adults are able to access, use and dispense included medications.
Essential First Aid Supplies offers the following handy reminders:
- Keep your first-aid kit well maintained, properly stocked and up-to-date.
- Keep it locked in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children.
- Make sure that the entire family and all caregivers know where the kit is kept and what it contains.
- Consider including a basic first-aid manual or instruction booklet.
- Resist the temptation to overstock your kit with random items.
- Never touch blood or body fluids without wearing medical gloves.
- Replace any items as soon as possible after you’ve used them.
- If you haven’t used the kit in a while, choose one day a year to audit it.
- When faced with an emergency, try to provide the best assistance you can to the injured person, but always ensure your own safety first.
“The moment you feel inadequate and insecure when treating a patient, you can make a phone call to a medical officer, your pharmacist or your doctor’s consulting rooms for advice,” suggests Linda.
Linda’s top three first-aid tips:
- Colloidal silver spray works wonders on all cuts, [healing] burns, eye injuries, eye infections, a burning throat and tonsillitis.
- A mentholated topical ointment can treat earache and a “deaf” feeling in the ear, remove earwax or smother any insects in the ear.
- For burn wounds, the sooner you rinse the area with cold water, the better the outcome.