first aid in (and out of) the home

first aid bookletAccidents happen. Are you prepared?

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not currently fully prepared for accidents, emergencies and other home first aid requirements. But I’m working on it. We have Dettol and band aids (and we live next door to a paramedic, which comes in handy :)) but we’ve been caught out a few times recently and it has been a good reminder to re-stock the first aid supplies (particularly for out and about) and brush up on our first aid knowledge.

First aid can mean the difference between life and death so it’s a skill well worth investing in. But besides emergencies, there are the little day to day scrapes and falls, colds and flues that we need to handle as well. That’s where a well stocked first aid kit and medical cabinet come in. Here are some tips for being prepared.

1. Take a first aid course

You can be all kitted out for an emergency, but your kit won’t be much use if you don’t know how to apply first aid! The first and most important step in being prepared is to take a first aid course.

I have taken first aid courses in the past so I know the basics, but I am well overdue for a refresher course. Taking refresher courses is just as important as taking an initial course. Not only are you refreshing old and possibly forgotten skills (especially if you don’t use those skills often – hopefully you don’t need to), you also catch up on the latest methods in first aid – best practices change. The St John’s ambulance basic first aid certificate is valid for three years and they recommend doing the CPR refresher annually.

If you’re a parent or child care worker, it’s a good idea to also take a course that’s specific to treating children.

To find a first aid course near you, check out the St John’s Ambulance website, Red Cross or Google first aid in your area for alternate course providers. The cost of a course ranges from around $80 to $300 depending on the course and provider.

For parents, at various times throughout the year Target offers FREE first aid training in conjunction with St John’s Ambulance, click the link for details (I’m enrolled in one of these so I’ll let you know how it goes).

2. Build a basic home  kit (for emergencies, illness and minor treatments)

You can buy a ready made basic kit for the home and car, but there are probably going to be things you want to add to this kit. You can purchase first aid kits online or from St John’s Ambulance or the Red Cross, but they are also available in chemists and stores like Big W.

If you would like to create your own kit from scratch (or you need to top up your supplies), the Red Cross provides a detailed list of recommended items. A very basic first aid kit can include the following:

  • Emergency contact numbers: These include your doctor, local hospital number, emergency contact information (family, neighbours etc.), health line, poison info line etc. You may also want to include essential medical information for each family member like allergies, medical conditions, regular medications, blood type etc.
  • first aid adviceFirst Aid booklet: Ours is pictured above. It sticks to the fridge (top white flap is a magnet) where it is readily accessible. A good first aid booklet is up to date, has lots of clear photographs and simple instructions that are easy to follow in emergency situations. A side finger index for quick access to info and ring binding so that it lays flat are both useful.
  • Antiseptic (or antiseptic wipes)
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Saline solution
  • Band aids of various sizes
  • Gauze Pads   / non stick dressings
  • Bandages (crepe and triangle)
  • Instant cold / cot pack
  • Tape
  • Gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Space blanket

To save on supplies, look out for specials or discounts and stock up or look online for discount supplies. Discount stores, supermarkets and discount chemists will often sell the same products as regular chemists for less.

3. extras and medical supplies

Other things you may want to consider, depending on your circumstances, for your personal medical kit include:

  • A thermometer (if you have young children, an in ear thermometer is more convenient than an oral / underarm one. They are expensive, but you can get them cheaper online (like this one from Amazon).
  • Calamine lotion for bites and stings
  • Aloe Vera gel for sunburn
  • Antihistamine cream for stings and bites
  • Paracetamol
  • Children’s paracetamol + dropper / syringe for administering dose
  • Cold and flu tablets / cough syrup + measuring cup or natural alternatives
  • Medicine for specific circumstances (for example, back-up asthma medicine or antihistamine for allergies, depending on your family’s needs)
  • Vapour Rub
  • Eucalyptus oil (good decongestant)
  • Antacids
  • Tiger Balm / Arnica / Deep Heat for muscle aches
  • Cold packs kept in the freezer
  • Wheat pack or similar to use as a heat pack
  • Plastic wrap (the paramedic next door wrapped a neighbour’s hot water burn in gladwrap as well as running it constantly under cold water while waiting for the ambos to keep it clean and the air off it – oxygen can make a burn hurt worse apparently. Click here for more info on burns and a handy first aid video and here for more info on plastic wrap for burns.)

A lot of people swear by homeopathic remedies but I’ve never used them, so I can’t comment. I am in the middle of reading a really interesting book written by a paediatrician who is also a naturopath called, 100 Natural Remedies for your Child. I really like this book because it balances conventional medicine with good nutrition and he especially looks at allergies and sensitivities to food (at least in the first half of the book), which many mainstream doctors tend to ignore. And I think that’s what medicine is about: a whole person approach, not just a symptoms approach – a balance between conventional and natural medicine.

If you’re interested in exploring more natural medicine and first aid alternatives, Stephanie from The Keeper of the Home has an article on what she stocks in her natural medicine cabinet, which is a good introduction.

(And of course, as you already know, keep all this stuff out of children’s reach.)

4. Don’t forget a portable kit for out and about

We went to the pool the other day and the little fella had a nasty fall, straight down on his knees. While I was worried about fractures (he couldn’t stand and walk that afternoon – he was fine though, a bit of bruising and stiffness, that’s all) the nurse on the 13 health line was more concerned about infection – did we, she kept asking, wash out the grazes with antiseptic? Um, well, no.

Having a small, portable kit that you can carry in your bag is great for just such incidents. What you include will depend on your circumstances and what you plan on doing. Here’s a few things you might consider:

  • Band aids
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • A small saline wash
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent and anti-sting cream (black ant bites hurt)
  • A small hand sanitiser (I can’t believe I’m saying that, I’m usually very anti hand sanitiser, but there have been times I wish I had it on me (think kid’s playing in dog poo) and if you’re cleaning wounds, then clean hands is important.)
  • A small instant cold / hot pack

You may want to consider a more extensive kit for the car and especially for camping and hiking trips (bandages for snake bites, vinegar for blue bottles for instance). Check out your road side assistance provider for member’s discounts on travel first aid kits.

A side note – health and emergency services

As well as your local hospital, 000 emergency service and local GP there are various other health services available that you may want to keep in mind.

I can’t recommend highly enough the health line service for non-urgent medical help. We have used this service on numerous occasions when we were concerned about something, it wasn’t an emergency, but weren’t sure if we would need to take a trip the ER (especially good for after hours when a visit to the GP isn’t an option or for when the GP is booked full).

For those living in NSW, ACT, NT, Tasmania, SA and WA you can call Health Direct (1800 022 222). For Victorians you can call Nurse on Call (1300 60 60 24) and for Queensland residents the service is 13 Heath (13 4325). These services are for non-urgent medical advice. All of these free health call lines are staffed by qualified nurses. Keep this number readily available, it’s very good for both reassurance and advice.

You may also want to look up and keep on hand the number for your local house call / after hours doctor (yes, you can still get doctors that make house calls in many areas). Often this service is free (bulk billed). We used an after hours doctor service for the little fella when it looked like he had a hernia (it came on suddenly at night). The doctor came around 9pm (we had approximately a 30 minute wait) to assess the little fella. Again, for the non life-threatening, non-emergency stuff, having a doctor come to your house beats hands down waiting in the emergency room for hours.

Each state also offers various other health services like parenting services, counselling services, drug, cigarette and alcohol services, crisis lines (Lifeline), women’s and children’s health services, poison information line, etc. Again, many of these services are free. Ask your local GP or check out your state website for details on the services provided and the contact information for these services.

In an emergency, always just call 000 (info on calling from mobile phones found here).


Do you have the skills to deal with an emergency? Do you know what to do for an ant bite or a knee graze (common sense is only common once you’ve learned it)? Do you know who to call for advice or how to get help? It’s a good idea to regularly brush up on first aid skills and regularly check your supplies (and your emergency contact list) so you are prepared for those inevitable bumps and scrapes or more serious injuries and illnesses.

What other things in your first aid kit / medicine cabinet do you find useful to have?

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  1. Delphine says

    When my children were little, at Primary school and money was tight, I had an emergency stash for prescription medicine. I went through a few bouts were if one got seriously sick with something and needed antibiotics, so did the other and then usually at the end of it all I caught what they had. Nothing like motherhood to improve your stamina. Medication is always more expensive when it’s needed, because that’s usually when everything else is crumbling. Life’s like that:)

  2. Rachel says

    Head lice treatment for primary school students…the best is cheap conditioner and a few good plastic lice combs, along with some disposable shower caps. Soak dry hair in conditioner, cover with shower cap, deal with other things for 30 minutes, an hour or two if you care too, great time for a movie while you sort out bedding (bath bedding in sunlight if you can) then comb out section by section, this takes ages, but works better then the other options every time. Rinse, repeat in 4-5 days time in case you missed any eggs. The conditioner suffercates the adults and removes most eggs. I have tried many options, this is the best, and costs the least ironically. TREAT EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE, if the boys don’t care shave to a number 3 or whatever.

    Emergency bandaids can be made using sticky tape and cotton wool, or tissue or even toilet paper, get a piece of a new roll just to be safe.
    Most cold medicine is panadol and an antihystamine, i was told by a chemist…so if you can’t decide which to stock up on, go for the panadol and antihystamine. When buying just ask the chemist about combining them for your own peace of mind.

    I hope this helps. Salt water is great to gargle (and spit out) for disinfecting mouth issues or soaking cuts on feet, splinters etc. oddly my Nan was right about sunlight soap for removing splinters…I think it works like this, as the soap dries it pulls out the splinter. I think it works with any bar of soap.

  3. says

    Great article – loved the burn tip with the Glad Wrap!

    We also have Gastrolyte sachets (or similar) in our First Aid Kit, to help prevent dehydration; “Immodium” for gastro/diarrhea and “Zaditen” eye-drops, which come in tiny tubes that you use once (and don’t have to then throw out a large amount of unused eye-drops.) We also have a few whistles on necklaces in our Kit – so handy when you are out and about with kids, both for games, and for getting attention (or kids to wear in the bush, so they don’t get lost.)

    • says

      Good idea, I’m going to add the gastrolyte to my list. I can’t tell you how much I went through over the months I had bad morning sickness.

  4. Rachel says

    Why so many comments from me? Because I never seem to have time to sit and think, most of my computer time is done between everything else, noise, chaos…basically Family life….I’m sure most readers here get that. So sorry about being a bit all over the place.

    Anyway I wanted to add that the part with the zip inside most handbags (partially concealed for ladies sanitary items i always thought) is great as a mini first aid kit. St johns online store has wonderful satchets for bug bites and burns which are great for this…(or a mini vegimite left over from a maccas breakie can also be a frugal if messy bug bit cream.) bandaids, a few antihystamine and panadol tablets (I always had childrens panadol in the nappy bag) some of those alcohol wipes they often use for disinfecting before imunisation needles/ blood tests etc…most doctors/ nurses are happy to give you a couple. This costs next to nothing, is reguarly used. I’ve had this going since I first started using a handbag in my teens.

    • says

      LOL – good old vegemite. Love it! I certainly understand the chaos of family life and I only have 1 (actually it’s 5am as I type this – love the peace and quiet of the early morning).

  5. Rachel says

    thats the third time I forgot to say thanks for the tips, links and the stuff about the cling wrap…never would have thought of that, really good to know!!! THANKYOU!!!