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DIY First-aid: What You Need & When to Use It

DIY First-aid: What You Need & When to Use It

Written by SMH Copywriter Phil Lederer

When you need urgent or emergency care, your best bet is to leave it to the professionals. But when illness is mild or those bumps and bruises don’t amount to a doctor visit, DIY at-home treatment may be enough — if you’re prepared.

Maintaining a fully stocked first-aid kit is a must for every household — as is knowing when to treat at home, when to head to an urgent care center and when to call 9-1-1. Having the right supplies at home also means you can offer help until first-responders arrive. 

A comprehensive, at-home kit should include first-aid supplies as well as emergency basics — those items you’d want in the event of a natural disaster like a hurricane or tornado — so that you can respond effectively, no matter the situation.

We reached out to Sarasota Memorial’s Trauma Services Injury Prevention Coordinator Susan Williams, RN, BSN, and pediatric hospitalist Jessie L. Hoang, MD, for their take on first-aid/emergency kit must-haves. Here are their recommendations. 

Unsure about Seeking Medical Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic?


With concerns over COVID-19 ever-present, many are hesitant to go to the doctor’s office, hospital or care center — even when they really need to. It’s important to know that these facilities are following strict infection control and screening protocols so they can continue to safely care for patients.

It is safe to seek care right now — in fact, forgoing care may actually be more detrimental to your health in some case than any potential risk of exposure.

Stocking Your At-home First-aid Kit

In addition to the supplies listed below, your emergency/disaster kit ideally will also include medical consent forms, a medical history and current medications list for each member of the household. It should also have a list of emergency phone numbers, including contact information for family doctors, local emergency services and the poison helpline (800-222-1222).

Bandages & Dressings
Your at-home care kit should include bandages and dressings for any possible injury. This mean stocking more than just materials for open wounds. Be sure to include supplies for sterilizing injury sites and treating burns, abrasions and other irritations as well — and know how to use them. (See “Resources & More SMH Expert Tips” below.)

  • Distilled water for cleaning wounds
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Sting relief spray or ointment
  • Anesthetic spray
  • Several adhesive bandages (Band-Aids) in multiple sizes
  • 4x4 dressing pads
  • Sterile, rolled gauze (3- and 4-inch size)
  • ACE bandages
  • A cloth triangle to make a sling (a towel will do)
  • Cloth first-aid tape
  • Safety pins of various sizes
  • Instant cold pack
  • Resealable plastic bags for making ice packs

DIY First Aid Kit, Disaster KitBasic Emergency/Disaster Supplies

  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Cell phone with solar charger
  • Sunscreen & insect repellant
  • Tweezers & scissors or trauma shears
  • Gloves & face masks/face coverings
  • Thermometer
  • Bulb syringe
  • Emergency blanket
  • Super glue
  • Petroleum jelly or other lubricant
  • Waterproof matches
  • Hand soap
  • Breathing barrier with one-way valve or pocket mask for CPR (hands-only CPR does not require these)

From pain relievers to EpiPens, medications are an important aspect of any first-aid kit. And while you can’t stock a whole pharmacy, these are the must-have medications.

  • Pain medications, including aspirin & children’s Tylenol (aspirin can also be chewed in the event of a heart attack)
  • Antidiarrheal medication and Pedialyte (to prevent dehydration related to vomiting or diarrhea)
  • Cough & cold medication
  • Diphenhydramine & EpiPen (for allergic reactions)
  • A cup or spoon for measuring doses

Don’t Forget: Store your first-aid kit in a cool, dry, accessible location, and check on the contents frequently, making sure bandages are still sterile and not compromised, medication is not expired and batteries are functioning. If you store medications in your kit, be sure to keep it out of reach of children.

When & Where to Seek Care

It’s common knowledge that in the event of a true medical emergency, you should call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital. But what about those instances when you’re unsure whether you should seek professional care, or whether the situation requires urgent care or emergency care? 

Here are some basic rules of thumb: 

Urgent Care: Urgent care centers help fill the gap between primary care and the hospital ER. If symptoms are something you’d typically go to see your regular doctor about, but you can’t wait until the office opens or has availability, then a visit to urgent care is in order. 

Emergency Care: If an illness or injury is life-threatening, go to the ER. If you’re not sure whether a condition is life-threatening, play it safe and go to the ER.

Click here for guidance on where to seek care, based on symptoms.

Kids & Fever: Look at your child before you look at the thermometer. If a child is not responsive or is lethargic, get them to the ER. If a child has fever under 101.5 and is acting normally, an urgent care visit most likely will suffice. Click here to learn when you should worry about fever in kids

COVID-19 symptoms: Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough or difficulty breathing) should call their primary care doctor or the Sarasota County COVID-19 Call Center (941-861-2883) for guidance on how and where to seek care. (Click here for the latest on COVID-19.)

Resources & More SMH Expert Tips

Stop the Bleed Kits

Hands-only CPR

Treating Button Battery Poisoning

Treating Common Kitchen Injuries

Heart Attacks: What to Look for & What to Do

Postpartum Symptoms that Warrant Medical Care


As a Sarasota Memorial copywriter and in-house wordsmith, local journalist Philip Lederer crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. He earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky.