Must-have first aid items: what a pharmacist recommends

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In collaboration with: Judith Choquette, Pharmacist
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Ooops. You just sliced more of your finger than the cucumber for tonight’s salad. Do you have what it takes to treat your wound the right way?

“To administer the right first-aid for minor injuries, you need the right tools,” says pharmacist Judith Choquette. “The good news is that you only need a few items to treat a variety of mishaps.”

Of course, you can purchase a ready-made first-aid kit at your pharmacy, but Judith warns that one kit may include items that you won’t use or include pills or ointments that may be close to their expiration date.

Instead, she suggests having the following items — that are found easily at your pharmacy — at the ready:

  1. Proper wound dressing. “Small plasters — your average sticky bandages — are perfect for small wounds so keep plenty handy in various sizes,” she advises. For larger wounds, you’ll want to protect it with three layers:
    • Antibiotic cream or ointment — to help prevent infection in more serious wounds and speed up healing
    • Absorbent gauze — available in various shapes and sizes
    • Skin tape — to keep the gauze in place and protect the wound
  2. Pain reliever (such as acetaminophen). “Acetaminophen is good to help relieve all kinds of pain,” explains Judith. “For advice on what to buy — especially if you have children — ask your pharmacist. Check the expiry date when buying larger quantities. You don’t want to buy a large bottle only to have most of it expire before you use it.”
  3. Hydrogen peroxide. Judith advises that for most wounds, lukewarm water is all you need to clean it thoroughly. “However, for really dirty ones — like those that occurred outdoors — the bubbling action of hydrogen peroxide can really help,” she says. “Follow up by rinsing with water. If you and your family members don’t engage in outdoor activities, you may not need hydrogen peroxide.”
  4. Hot/cold compress (either plastic or cloth). Keep these in the freezer since they take only minutes to heat up but take time to get cold. To avoid harming your skin, wrap the compress in a towel before placing it where you need it.
  5. Hydrocortisone (0.5%). “Hydrocortisone is really good for insect bites,” advises Judith Choquette. “Keep some around — especially in the summer.” Hydrocortisone cream can help reduce the itching, swelling and redness caused by insect bites.
  6. Rubbing alcohol. “Rubbing alcohol should never be used to disinfect a wound. However, it is useful if you need to sterilize tweezers, scissors, or safety pins,” she says. “This may not be extremely useful at home but if you’re going on a camping trip, for example, be sure to include rubbing alcohol, tweezers, scissors and pins in your kit.”

Know your limits

If you’re unsure of how to treat a wound or sprain, speak to your pharmacist. They’ll be able to advise you on what to do and if you should see a doctor. “It’s also a good idea to take a basic first-aid class given by The Canadian Red Cross, especially if you’re a parent,” she says. “The last thing you want to do is cause more harm than good.”

To find a Canadian Red Cross in your area, search “red cross” in the We can find support section of this website.


  • Interview, Judith Choquette

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