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There’s a good chance the first aid kit you purchased online or at the drugstore is really only designed for treating the most superficial of injuries. Here is a curated list of items you should consider adding to bump up the effectiveness of all your first aid kits.

Items with an asterisk* require additional training or education to use safely and effectively. While all of these items are readily available over the counter, never use a product or perform a first-aid procedure for which you have not been trained. Always ask if the patient is allergic to any product that comes in contact with their body. The above items are not a substitute for emergency medical care.

A*— Hemostatic Dressing

This is a gauze dressing or sponge impregnated with a blood-clotting agent used to help stop the flow of blood in life-threatening wounds. These are expensive, but indispensable for a serious and bloody traumatic injury.

B—Body Substance Isolation (N-95 mask, hand sanitizer, latex-free gloves)

Anytime you interact with people, you are exposed to germs. Sometimes those germs are dangerous. Your number one priority is protecting yourself from illness via blood, bodily fluids or infectious bacteria sitting on the skin. Keep a stash of these items in your home, office, and car.

C— Self-Adherent Wrap or Cohesive Bandages

This bandage acts as both a protective layer for a wound, as well as a device to hold the dressing in place. Because it sticks to itself, this bandage can be used to apply pressure to a wound. It can also be applied in less than ideal conditions; like wet skin, or in the rain. Because it does not stick to hair, this product is ideal for pet injuries. Stock up on various widths.

D*—CPR Breathing Barrier

If you are not currently CPR-certified, get trained. CPR can save a life. A breathing barrier is the device you put between your mouth and the patient’s mouth when giving rescue breaths.


When a simple adhesive bandage just won’t do, turn to Steri-Strips. These very sticky, nylon-reinforced, super thin bandages are excellent at closing superficial incisions. When applied to clean dry skin, they will stay in place for up to two weeks allowing the wound plenty of time to heal.

F—Burn Gel (Lidocaine 2% to 4%)

First-degree (red) and second-degree (blisters) burns can be very painful. Never put butter or grease on a burn. There is no home remedy to heal a burn, but gently applying a numbing agent over the skin will temporarily help with the discomfort. Apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Burn gel is also excellent at stopping the itch of bug bites.

G—Trauma Sheers

Often times clothing prevents access to an injury. You have to be able to see the injury before you can treat it. Pointed-end scissors are dangerous to use in an emergency. The tiny scissors that come with the many first-aid kits can’t cut much more than paper, let alone a patient’s clothing. Trauma sheers are safe to use on a patient who might be wiggling around. They can cut shirts, pants, shoe-laces and belts.

H*—Fingertip Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor (Pulse-Ox)

We’ve all had one affixed to our finger at the doctor’s office. This fingertip clip-on device measures the oxygen levels in the blood along with the pulse rate. These are two very helpful measurements for assessing a patient’s well-being, and for monitoring changes in overall health during an emergency.


A life-threatening arterial bleed may only be stopped with a tourniquet. Having one and knowing how to use it can prevent a patient from bleeding to death. Like CPR, you must be trained in the proper use of tourniquets.

J—Emesis Bag

When patients are ill or injured, they frequently feel the urge to vomit or urinate. Using the restroom may not be an option. An emesis bag can help keep the patient clean and comfortable and just as importantly, provide a clean environment to continue treatment.


If you find yourself alone with a patient and have called 911, a super loud whistle that works in the rain can help first responders find you. A whistle will allow you to continue to use your hands while alerting others to your location.


In order to provide assistance for a traumatic injury, you must be able to can see it. LED flashlights are superior to incandescent—they are much brighter and last considerably longer. Don’t forget extra batteries.

M—4x4 Non-sterile Gauze

Also called non-woven sponge, wipes, surgical sponge, and4x4 dressing. Stopping bleeding injuries is critical. There is not enough time to unwrap a dozen sterile pads. Grab a one-inch stack of 4x4 non-sterile gauze pads and place directly over the wound. Store several stacks of 4x4s in zip-top sandwich bags and keep bags in every first-aid kit and glove box. More is better.

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