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7 Ways to Provide First Aid Without a First Aid Kit

Not Prepared? No Problem! These Tips Don't Need Medical Tools


Updated January 23, 2014

Some people are prepared for any eventuality. Others, like me, are more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of folks. Reading the average first aid book will leave you thinking the only way to provide first aid is with fancy tools. In reality, there is no better first aid tool than your own noggin. Most basic first aid either doesn't require tools or can be done with items found around the house. These first aid tips don't require a first aid kit.

1. Wash Your Hands

Washing hands with soap
© Suza Scalora/Getty Images
The most important first aid tools (besides the noggin) are clean hands. Even if you wear gloves -- which probably aren't available if you don't have a first aid kit -- you still need clean paws for taking care of other people. Anything that damages or removes skin (cuts, scratches, burns, etc.) leaves the victim susceptible to infection. If you don't have a way to wash your hands, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

2. Rinse Cuts with Plain Old Water

Rinsing a cut with tap water
© Getty Images/David De Lossy
Studies have shown that flushing a cut or scrape with plain water is as good as any of the fancy disinfectants. On top of that, soap does a really good job of killing germs even if it isn't marketed as "antibacterial." Once a cut's been flushed clean, it doesn't have to be covered to heal. Putting an adhesive bandage on a cut keeps dirt out, but air doesn't hurt it.

3. Stop Bleeding With Clean Cloths

Direct pressure to stop bleeding
© Rod Brouhard
You don't need a special bandage material for stopping bleeding. A clean towel works perfectly, as will a cotton t-shirt. In fact, if the bleeding is severe, you shouldn't wait to track down your first aid kit anyway -- you should quickly put pressure on the wound. Once the bleeding has stopped and you've cleaned it (see above), you can leave it open. If you really want to dress a wound and don't have a bandage, a sanitary napkin will work very well. The original Kotex was developed as a military field dressing.

4. Use a Cardboard Box as a Splint

Stack of empty boxes
© David Silverman/Getty Images
Cardboard is very stiff if you bend it. We use folded cardboard for splinting in the field. Our cardboard splints are made exclusively for that purpose, but you can make a cardboard splint out of any box. Those boxes for archiving files work especially well, and you can find them in almost any office.

5. Use a Pillow to Splint a Foot

Pillow splint
© Rod Brouhard
Injured feet and ankles can be splinted pretty successfully by wrapping a pillow around the injured foot and securing it with strong tape -- duct tape works really well.

6. Call 911

911 communication center
© Melanie Martinez
There are two types of first aid -- minor injuries you can handle by yourself and life-threatening emergencies that need professional help. Probably the best non-medical first aid tool you have is a telephone. If you call, be calm and expect to answer lots of questions, sometimes more than once. If you're calling 911 from a mobile phone, make sure you know what to expect before you call.

7. Do CPR

Practicing CPR on a manequin
© Shad Bolling
CPR is the most basic emergency first aid there is. Current American Heart Association guidelines call for rescue breathing as part of CPR. There's lots of evidence, however, that for the most common type of cardiac arrest patients -- adults who suddenly collapse -- pushing on the chest is good enough, no mouth-to-mouth necessary. To do that type of CPR, no CPR mask is necessary. One thing to keep in mind: child and infant CPR still needs mouth-to-mouth.
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