The Home Medical Supplies You Should Always Have In Your First Aid Kit
Ideally, you'll have a stockpile of these home medical supplies in case of any illness or emergency.
Woke up with a stuffy nose? Burned yourself on a curling iron? Can't stop sneezing, coughing, or *ahem* pooping? Worried about catching COVID-19 and being quarantined without supplies? These are all reasons to have a first aid kit in your home.
This list of medicines and other items will not only make you more comfortable during minor illnesses or injuries (without having to run out to the store while gushing blood...or other bodily fluids) but will also help you get back to being your fabulous self much quicker.
Here are a few things doctors recommend to have on hand:
- Back-up supply of your personal Rx medications
- Anti-inflammatories and fever reducers
- Cough suppressants
- Hydration Aids
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- Tools (such as tweezers, nail clippers, gloves, and masks)
Back-up Supply of Rx Medications
"First and foremost is to make sure you have your own personal prescription medications—and enough of them," says Erin Oley, D.N.P., a doctor of nursing practice at Billings Clinic in Red Lodge, Montana. Having an extra supply—approximately a month's worth—of your prescriptions will be a gamechanger if you get sick and aren't able to leave your home to get refills. These items can range from inhalers to epi-pens, antidepressants to insulin. Whatever medications you cannot live without.
(Good news: Many pharmacies—including CVS, Walmart, and online-first platforms like ExpressScripts—can also deliver, if you're in a pinch.)
It's key to have a thermometer on hand so you can monitor your body temperature if you're feeling feverish and hot—or if it's a key symptom of a serious concern like COVI-19.
That said, it's important to know what temperature is considered dangerous: "We don't actually consider anything a fever unless it's above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit," says Purvi Parikh, M.D., a board-certified allergist and immunologist with New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "Anything below that can still be within the range of normal." Body temperature can rise above and below the average of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for numerous reasons, such as exercise, menstruation, or dehydration. If you're monitoring your temp and it keeps rising or goes above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, it's time to call or see a physician, says Dr. Parikh.
Oley recommends oral thermometers for adults and rectal thermometers for infants. Both electric and non-electric are fine, just make sure you have extra batteries for the electric thermometers. Note: Electric thermometers also might need to be calibrated for accuracy.
Anti-inflammatories and Fever Reducers
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are pain-relievers and fever-reducers. Dr. Parikh recommends Advil, Motrin, or generically, ibuprofen, for pain relief because they reduce inflammation in the body, which is what's causing the pain. (Heads up: There's been some mixed reporting on ibuprofen and its effects on the coronavirus.)
Tylenol, or its generic name, acetaminophen, is not an anti-inflammatory but will help with fever reduction. You can use Tylenol instead of an NSAID if ibuprofen gives you an upset stomach or if you have a medical history of gastric ulcers. Just make sure you read the bottle for the correct dosage because misuse of these over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications can actually be very harmful to your body, says Oley.
- Buy It: Advil Ibuprofen Tablets 200mg, $7, walgreens.com
- Buy It: Motrin IB 200mg, $7, walgreens.com
- Buy It: Tylenol Extra Strength 500mg, $10, walgreens.com
It's a good idea to stock up on antihistamines (medicines to prevent and control allergies) during peak allergy seasons, says Dr. Parikh. She recommends any over-the-counter medicines such as Zyrtec, Claritin or a nasal steroid spray. Plus, you can use Benadryl if you have an acute allergic reaction to something new, such as a new soap or foreign food. In these instances, you can also use a hydrocortisone cream to topically treat any superficial reactions, like rashes or bug bites.
- Buy It: Zyrtec 24-Hour Allergy Relief Tablets, $29 for 45, walgreens.com
- Buy It: Claritin 24 Hour Allergy Relief Tablets, $12 for 10, walgreens.com
- Buy It: Flonase 24 Hour Allergy Relief Nasal Spray, $25 for 120 sprays, walgreens.com
- Buy It: Benadryl Allergy Dye-Free Liqui-Gels, $6 for 24, walgreens.com
- Buy It: Cortizone 10 Anti-Itch Easy Relief Applicator, $5, walgreens.com
If you develop a cold, Oley says that she recommends cough drops with honey or vitamin C in them, such as Halls or Ricola. But if you want a more natural approach, studies have shown buckwheat honey is an effective cough suppressant for children 2 to 18 years old (note: it's poisonous for children under 1 year of age), and adults have said it's effective for them as well, says Oley. Honey, in general, contains compounds that function as antioxidants, and it possesses antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If you want to keep an OTC cough syrup option at home, you can also try Robitussin or NyQuil at night to help you fall asleep. (Or check out more natural home remedies for the cold and flu.)
- Buy It: Halls Defense, Sugar Free Assorted Citrus Vitamin C Drops, $2, walmart.com
- Buy It: Ricola Dual Action Cough Suppressant & Oral Anesthetic Honey-Lemon Drops, $2, walmart.com
- Buy It: Beekeeper's Naturals Buckwheat Honey, $18, walmart.com
Having a decongestant in your home first aid kit will help some of your worst stuffy noses, or that annoying post-nasal drip down your throat. Dr. Parikh advises against decongestant nasal sprays because "they often come with a lot of side effects, can be addicting, and [if overused] can make your congestion come back worse." Instead, Oley recommends a decongestant called Aprodine (a pill that contains Sudafed, so you'll have to ask your pharmacist for it) or a moderate saline nasal spray or a neti pot.
- Buy It: Walgreens Saline Nasal Spray, $7, walgreens.com
- Buy It: NeilMed Nasaflo Porcelain Neti Pot, $20, walgreens.com
Having hydration aids in your home first aid kit such as Pedialyte or rehydration salts (aka electrolyte powders) is key for when you have a gastrointestinal (GI) virus, says Oley. (Or, you know, just a wicked hangover.) Because GI viruses can cause extreme vomiting or diarrhea, they can severely dehydrate you, says Oley. She recommends powders or tablets such as Liquid IV and Nuun because they don't have as much sugar as regular sports drinks. Oley and Dr. Parikh recommend avoiding using Imodium, an anti-diarrhea drug, to slow GI viruses. "By taking Imodium, you're not letting whatever needs to come out, come out," says Dr. Parikh. (Related: These New Products Turn Basic Water Into a Fancy Health Drink)
- Buy It: Pedialyte AdvancedCare Electrolyte Solution, $5, target.com
- Buy It: nuun Hydration Sport Vegan Tablets, $18 for 30 tablets, target.com
- Buy It: Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier, $14 for 6 packets, cvs.com
Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is most effective, says Dr. Parikh, but hand sanitizer is a good back-up plan. Use hand sanitizer if you don't have access to running water—just make sure it's "at least 60-percent alcohol-based to be effective," she says. (Related: Does Vinegar Kill Viruses?)
"Get bandages of all different shapes and sizes," in case of any cuts or scrapes, says Dr. Parikh, and an elastic bandage in case you sprain a joint or muscle. Oley also recommends keeping two other types of bandages on hand, which can be used in more extreme cases: a triangular bandage, which can be used as a sling, a tourniquet, or for bandaging large areas, and a hemostatic bandage, like Quikclot, that helps control the bleeding from a deeper wound.
- Buy It: Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandage Family Variety Pack, $13, walmart.com
- Buy It: ACE Brand Elastic Bandage, $3-5, walmart.com
- Buy It: Exclusive Triangular Bandage, $2, theemsstore.com
- Buy It: QuikClot Trauma Pak, $25, walgreens.com
Triple Antibiotic Ointment
Having a few miscellaneous tools in your first aid kit can be helpful as well. "For really bad splinters, have some tweezers on hand," says Oley. She also recommends nail clippers for bad hangnails and a pair of scissors to help cut bandages. Dr. Parikh recommends a pair of latex gloves and maybe a medical mask. "The only time you need to wear a mask is if you're very sick but you need to leave your home because the only thing it will help is you from spreading your sickness," says Dr. Parikh.
- Buy It: Tweezer Guru Stainless Steel Tweezers with Point Tip, $10, walmart.com
- Buy It: Japonesque Pro Performance Nail Clipper, $3, walmart.com
- Buy It: Prestige Medical 5.5, $8, walmart.com
Bonus: Safety Courses
To really be prepared, Oley recommends taking a first aid and a CPR course to cover all of your bases. (You can take a virtual one through the American RedCross for just $30.)
Things You Can Skip
There's no real downside to taking immune boosters such as Emergen-C and other vitamin supplements, although there isn't a ton of science that proves they actually work, says Dr. Parikh. But studies show that vitamin D promotes immunity as well as helping with multiple other medical problems, too. So, getting the correct amount of vitamin D daily will keep you healthier in the long run. (More here: Does Emergen-C Actually Work?)
You can use antihistamines to help you sleep through the night if you are suffering from cold and allergy symptoms says Dr. Parikh. Otherwise, Oley recommends good sleep hygiene. This means eating a light dinner, shutting your phone off early, taking a warm bath, using meditation apps or some light stretching before bed. (See: Should You Really Take Melatonin to Help You Sleep?)
Ice or Heat Packs
If you're trying to ice or heat an injury, you're better off making your own ice or heat packs on the fly instead of buying them, says Oley. "I've seen people burn themselves from leaving them on too long," says Oley. Instead, wrap some ice in a cloth or warm up a wet rag in the microwave, depending on what symptoms you have.