14 Extremely Useful Things Doctors Keep in Their Personal First-Aid Kits
There are some things that almost come standard in a well-stocked medicine cabinet, such as bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, gauze pads, and other necessities. Life throws all sorts of curveballs, however, and depending on who’s in your household and what their needs are, you’ll more likely than not need to be prepared for literally anything these days. (Hello, global pandemic!)
How should you stock the ultimate first aid kit? Which unexpected essentials should you keep in your medicine cabinet or your car? Since “safety first” is the ultimate credo for any well-prepared adult, we went straight to the experts and asked what “surprise” items medical professionals keep in their personal first aid kits, and why those products earned a badge of honor from these hardworking healthcare heroes. You may just be inspired to think outside the traditional first aid kit and add a few of these inspired picks to your own personal healthcare stash—or know what to bring along should you get stranded on a deserted island.
Michael Richardson, MD, in Boston, MA, recommends a multitasking home essential.
“Believe it or not, superglue is on my list of must-haves for a first aid kit. It can be a game changer for cleaning small deep cuts that likely need stitches,” he says. “It’s certainly not a replacement for a medical evaluation and has its own side effects (skin irritation, for example), but it can come in handy if you or your child get hurt in a remote area where you can’t easily seek care from a medical professional.”
Of course, you don’t want to pour superglue on every scrape, and the stuff is no replacement for seeing an actual doctor. As VeryWellHealth notes, you should never put superglue on a bite or puncture wound, among other injuries. There are also FDA-approved products, like Dermabond, that serve the same purpose with less risk of irritation.
For little ones, Dr. Richardson opts for an adorable pick-me-up. “Stickers can be lifesaving when trying to calm an inconsolable child who just fell off the swings or scraped their knee on the ground,” he says. “Having a sheet of fun, playful stickers may be all the first aid your little one needs to get them back up and playing again.”
3. Electrolyte Packets
Alettie Lewis, PA-C in Windom, MN, knows all about the power of hydration—especially when it comes to cocktail hour. “I always have Liquid IV hydration packets on hand and sometimes even mix my drinks with them to prevent a hangover,” she says.
4. Menstrual Products
It’s always a good idea to be prepared for the inevitable. “Keep a spare tampon, pad, or menstrual cup on hand just in case your period shows up without warning. Use Midol Complete to manage bloating, fatigue, water-weight gain and pain so you can get back to being and feeling yourself,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD in New York, NY.
5. Icy Hot
Dweck also recommends soothing products so you don’t need to run to the store when you’re sore: “Working out at home means different aches and pains, so think about a heating pad and Icy Hot for sore muscles,” she says.
Mary Jepsen, NP in Portland, OR always keeps Naloxone, a life-saving product on hand. “It’s a simple nasal spray that can save a life by reversing an opioid overdose,” she says. “I literally have a front doormat that says ‘phone, keys, wallet, Naloxone’ so I make sure it’s always in my purse, because you never know when you might get to save a life.”
Naloxone often requires a prescription from your doctor or a pharmacist and does require training to use correctly and safely, as the University of Washington Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute’s Center for Drug Safety and Services Education notes. If you’re interested in learning more, you can talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner; some CPR and first aid classes can also teach you how to use it.
7. Glucagon nasal spray
“As a type-1 diabetic, I always carry the newer nasal spray version of glucagon with me in case of severe hypoglycemia,” says Dan O’Neill, MD, in Portland, OR. “Most people are just aware of the glucagon injection kit, but this is a simpler option, administered in the same fashion as naloxone. People should be more aware of it, as insurances are starting to cover it now.”
If you’re diabetic or have a diabetic loved one, you know how important it is to be prepared for anything, and this convenient new option could be life-changing. It’s always a good idea to give your doctor and insurance company a call to discuss whether or not glucagon spray is an option for you, and whether the treatment is covered by your plan.
8. Moleskin patches
Christine Boyer, PA-C in Portland, OR discovered a favorite first aid essential as a dancer. “Moleskin is great for preventing blisters or protecting them after they have formed since it is more durable than traditional bandages,” she says. “I learned this tip from my dancer days, and I pass on to patients all the time!” Suffering from a blister thanks to a new pair of shoes? Here’s how to use moleskin to keep your feet happy.
9. Vicks Vaporub
Virginia Hall, FNP-C in Los Angeles, CA relies on a classic product that your grandma probably loves. “Mentholated ointment (like Vicks Vaporub) is always in my first aid kit,” she says, noting that the formula is particularly good for a “chesty cough.” She also uses the old-school fave in an unexpected way: “Slather on feet calluses at night, pull on some old socks and the next morning, the calluses are easily removed with minimal scrubbing or scraping.”
10. Tea Tree Oil
Lynn Green, APNP-BC, MSN, MHC in Green Bay, WI, opts for a natural remedy. “Tea tree essential oil is my favorite for zits. When you feel one coming on, dab on a drop and it’s amazing how fast they go away!” she says. “Tea tree oil can also be used for steam inhalation to clear sinuses, as an antiseptic wash, to treat fungal issues… there’s a long list of uses.”
11. Fishing Line
Karli Sanyour, RN BSN in Sioux Falls, SD, is ready in case she ever gets stranded on a deserted island. She recommends sunscreen to prevent sunburn (a daily essential no matter what) and glucose gel “in case you get stranded for an extended period of time, especially if you or someone you know is a diabetic as they are more susceptible to low blood sugar.” Another item on her must-have list is fishing line. “It’s sturdy and can be used to tie things together. It can be used as a tourniquet if there isn’t another option,” she notes. Study up on how to safely tie a tourniquet with tips from the American Red Cross—you never know when you’ll need to save a life!
12. Ace Bandages
Dr. Leada Malek, board-certified sports physical therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, keeps her kit stocked with items essential to her practice, but they’re equally essential for those living an active lifestyle. “It’s almost second nature for me to have items related to orthopedic care and basic sprains and strains,” she says. “Namely, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aleve, kinesiology tape, or cold compresses. Ace wraps can help control swelling with mild injuries or orthopedic cases. These items can help reduce any aches and pains that creep up and allow for greater time playing, moving, and doing activities they enjoy.”
13. Oatmeal—yep, the kind you eat!
Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research for the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, NY recommends looking in your pantry for some surprising first aid kit skin-savers. “Colloidal oatmeal has skin-soothing and protecting properties. The same oats that you may use to make your breakfast can also be turned into a compress to treat burns or even dry, itchy skin,” he says. (Collodial oatmeal is a powder made from ground oats, and has been recognized by the FDA for its skin-protecting abilities.)
The sweet stuff can also do so much more than sweeten your tea or toast. “Honey has long been used in medicine for its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects,” Dr. Zeichner says. This delicious sticky substance also has antioxidant properties. While raw honey is often preferred, there’s no firm evidence that pasteurized honey has a lesser effect. “It can be used as a DIY treatment for everything from pimples to cuts in the skin to enhance wound healing.” How sweet is that?