Tips on Creating a First-Rate First-Aid Kit
What people with diabetes need to be prepared for emergencies
When it comes to your health, preparing for the worst isn’t pessimistic. It’s smart. That’s why experts advise everyone to stash medical supplies for a rainy day. Or, you know, a day when you’ve just sliced your finger, sprained your ankle, or broken out in hives.
A well-stocked first-aid kit is easy to prepare and useful in both minor and more serious emergencies. The bathroom may seem like the ideal spot to stash the essentials, but because of heat and humidity, it’s not the best place to keep medicine or many diabetes supplies. Instead, store your first-aid kit in a room where you spend a lot of time or in an easy-to-reach area of a closet.
Creating your own kit is easy. Start with a waterproof container, then add the supplies listed ("In the Kit," below). As far as medications go, experts recommend adding baby aspirin to the mix, which can help during a heart attack. (After calling 911, chew four baby aspirin or one non-coated adult aspirin. Chewed aspirin works faster than swallowed pills.) There’s less of a consensus about other medications. Those that must be kept cold, such as insulin, don’t need to be included. Others, such as cough syrup, ibuprofen, and antidiarrheal drugs, can be added to the mix.
The tricky part is keeping items current. “If you’re going to put medications in there, anything that can potentially expire, you want to check that often,” says David Berry, PhD, ATC, an athletic trainer, professor at Weber State University, and member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. He recommends reviewing the items in your first-aid kit at least twice a year and replacing anything that is expired.
Also remember to refill the kit as you use items in it. “The problem is, people take things out, they use them, and they don’t replace them,” Berry says. “[You] need to replace those items so in case an event transpires, [you] have the equipment readily available again.”
Wound-care products are some of the most important items in your kit. Irrigation solution, for instance, is helpful for cleaning wounds of dirt, debris, and bacteria. That’s a particularly important step for people with diabetes, who are more susceptible to infection.
Berry says plain soap and water will do the trick, but it’s smart to store saline solution in your kit, which comes in handy when you can’t make it to the sink. Noticeably absent: hydrogen peroxide. Neither that nor alcohol is useful for cleaning wounds. “If you look at the research, they actually destroy some of the healthy cells,” he says. “You don’t want to destroy the healthy tissue.”
Another aspect of building a first-aid kit you’ll want to pay attention to: your family’s allergies. Is someone allergic to latex? Stock non-latex gloves and bandages. Do you have an allergy to certain antibiotic ointments? Be careful to stash the right type in your kit.
For diabetes, take extra precautions. You can’t store insulin in a first-aid kit because it needs to be refrigerated before opening. But you can stock other supplies, such as a backup meter, extra insulin pump infusion sets, batteries for any devices you use, fast-acting glucose and glucagon for lows, syringes and pen needles, lancets, and a backup container of test strips (just be sure to use them before they expire!).
Finally, keep a list of emergency phone numbers in your kit, such as the poison control center and your doctors’ offices.
If you’ve injured yourself, make a follow-up appointment with your health care provider. First aid is essential, but it’s only the first step in the process. Continued care can ensure you stay safe in the long run.
In the Kit
The following supplies make for a comprehensive first-aid kit.
Adhesive cloth tape
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Aloe vera gel for burns
Bandage roll (such as an Ace bandage)
Bandages in assorted sizes (such as Band-Aids)
Compact mobile splint
First-aid guidebook (such as American Red Cross Pocket First Aid)
Instant cold packs or plastic bags for ice (1 quart or 1 gallon)
Latex-free face shield
Low-dose aspirin (such as baby aspirin)
Triangular bandages (for slings)
Wound wash (such as saline solution)
- Batteries (for meters, pumps, and continuous glucose monitors)
- Blood glucose meter
- Fast-acting glucose (such as tablets or gels)
- Glucagon kit
- Infusion sets for pumps
- Injection pen needles
- Insulin syringes
- Skin prep wipes
- Test strips (for blood glucose and ketones)
4 C’s of Wound Care
- Clean the wound with soap and water or using a wound wash, such as saline solution.
- Coat with antibacterial ointment, such as Neosporin.
- Cover with a bandage.
- Call for a doctor’s appointment to follow up if needed (if you need stitches, for example, or the wound shows signs of infection, such as redness and pus).
While it’s not entirely necessary to store medications in a first-aid kit (aside from aspirin, which is crucial during a heart attack), it may be a good idea to include the following. When you hit the road, grab your kit. That way, if you’re ill but can’t find a pharmacy, you’ll have the basics on hand.
- Antidiarrheal (such as Pepto-Bismol*)
- Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
- Cough syrup
*Or your doctor may prescribe a just-if-needed antimicrobial medication, such as tetracycline.