First Aid Tips

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 21, 2023
13 min read

What would you do if you cut your finger while chopping vegetables? How would you handle a stovetop burn, a spider bite, or a child’s scrape from a fall? Minor injuries happen every day, and most are easy to treat at home. But to handle them quickly and calmly, you need to know what to do and have the right supplies.

How do I make a first aid kit?

A well-stocked first aid kit is a must-have for treating minor injuries at home and on the go. You can buy a first aid kit or put one together on your own. Keep your supplies in a sturdy, clear plastic box so you can see what’s inside.

What should be in my first aid kit?

  • Adhesive tape
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Allergy medicine
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Bandages in different sizes
  • Calamine lotion
  • Cold packs
  • Elastic bandages
  • Gauze rolls and pads
  • Hand sanitizer (for your travel first aid kit)
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Latex-free gloves
  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Saline wound wash
  • Scissors and tweezers

Where should I store my first aid kit?

You don’t want to go searching for supplies when there’s a minor accident to tend to. Your kit should be easy to find. But it should be kept in a high, childproof cabinet, far away from kids’ prying fingers. Keep one full-sized kit in a central spot at home, such as your kitchen or bathroom. Then put a smaller kit in your car or purse for when you’re on the road.

How often should I check my first aid kit?

Items can run out if you use them often, and medicines can expire if you rarely need them, so go through everything in your kit, and replace any empty or out-of-date items at least once a year.

How do I treat a minor cut or scrape?

Follow these steps to keep cuts clean and prevent infections and scars.

  • Wash your hands. First, wash up with soap and water so you don’t get bacteria into the cut and cause an infection. If you’re on the go, use hand sanitizer.
  • Stop the bleeding. Put pressure on the cut with a gauze pad or clean cloth. Keep the pressure on for a few minutes.
  • Clean the wound. Once you’ve stopped the bleeding, rinse the cut under cool running water or use a saline wound wash. Clean the area around the wound with soap and a wet washcloth. Don’t get soap in the cut, because it can irritate the skin. And don’t use hydrogen peroxide or iodine, which could irritate the cut.
  • Remove any dirt or debris. Use a pair of tweezers cleaned with alcohol to gently pick out any dirt, gravel, glass, or other material in the cut.

Do I need to bandage a cut or scrape?

You don’t need to bandage every cut and scrape. Some heal more quickly when left uncovered to stay dry. But if the cut is on a part of the body that might get dirty or rub against clothes, put on a bandage to protect it. Change the bandage every day or whenever it gets wet or dirty.

How long should a cut or scrape be covered?

Once a solid scab has formed, you can take off the bandage.

When do I need to call my doctor?

Check with your doctor or go to the emergency room if:

  • The cut is deep, long, or the edges are jagged. You may need stitches and a tetanus shot.
  • The cut or scrape is from a dirty or rusty object. You may need a tetanus shot.
  • The injury is from an animal or human bite.
  • You can’t stop the bleeding with direct pressure.
  • You can’t get dirt out of the wound.
  • The cut is on your face or near a joint, like on your fingers.
  • The skin around the cut gets red and swollen or develops red streaks.
  • Pus drains from the cut.
  • You have a fever of more than 100.4 F (in either an adult or child).

How do topical antibiotic ointments work?

Topical antibiotics are medicines you put on your skin to kill bacteria. Most cuts and scrapes will heal without ointment, but they can reduce scars and help the wound heal faster. If you do use an antibiotic ointment, apply it to your skin one to three times a day and then cover with a clean bandage.

When should I use gauze and tape?

Gauze and tape work best for large cuts and scrapes that bandages won’t cover. Ask your pharmacist which type of gauze is best for you.

How should I apply gauze and tape?

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. You can also wear gloves.
  • Gently wash the wound with a wet piece of gauze or washcloth.
  • Place a piece of clean gauze over the wound.
  • Apply tape around the edges of the gauze to hold it in place.

How do I prevent scars?

When your body heals after a cut, scrape, or burn, sometimes a scar can be left behind. Depending on the injury, some scars are small, and others are bigger and more noticeable.

To prevent scars, follow these tips:

  • Wear helmets, kneepads, and other protective gear to avoid injury.
  • Treat any cuts or other wounds right away.
  • Keep the wound moist (try an antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly) while it heals.
  • Don’t pick at the scab.
  • Consider covering your cut with silicone gel sheeting, a clear, sticky pad that can speed healing.
  • If the scar isn’t fading, ask your doctor about creams or ointments to make it less obvious.

How do I treat a nosebleed?

Nosebleeds usually look a lot worse than they are. Most of the time you can stop the flow with a few simple steps:

  • Lean the head slightly forward, so blood doesn’t run down the throat.
  • With a tissue or washcloth, gently press the nostrils together to stop the bleeding.
  • Hold the nose for at least 5 minutes. Then check to see if the bleeding has stopped. If it hasn’t stopped, gently squeeze for another 10 minutes.

Call the doctor or go to an emergency room if:

  • The bleeding hasn’t stopped after 15 to 20 minutes or keeps starting again.
  • The bleeding is fast and there’s a lot of blood.
  • The bleeding is from an injury to your nose or face.
  • You feel faint or weak.

How do I remove a splinter?

Splinters are more of an annoyance than a real health problem, but if you’ve got one stuck in a finger or toe, you’ll want to get it out. How you remove a splinter depends on how deep it is.

If the splinter is sticking out of the skin:

  • Wash the skin around the splinter with soap and water.
  • Clean a pair of tweezers with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
  • Grab the end of the splinter with the tweezers.
  • Pull it out at the same angle as the splinter went in.
  • Clean the skin again with soap and water.

If the splinter is under the skin:

  • Wash the skin around the splinter with soap and water.
  • Clean a needle and tweezers with alcohol.
  • Gently scrape away the skin above the splinter with the needle until you can see the top of the splinter.
  • Grab the end of the splinter with the tweezers and pull it out at the same angle it went in.
  • Clean the skin again with soap and water.

How do I treat animal bites and scratches?

Sometimes a seemingly friendly dog or cat can bite or scratch. If you or your child gets a bite, follow these steps to treat the wound:

  • Hold a towel or gauze to the area to stop the bleeding.
  • Clean the wound with soap and water.
  • Cover it with a clean bandage or gauze pad.

When should I see a doctor for an animal bite?

For any animal bite, you may need an antibiotic to prevent infection. So it’s always a good idea to call your doctor, especially if you have medical conditions that weaken your immune system. Also, you should call your doctor or head to the emergency room if:

  • The bite was caused by an animal you don’t know, or by any wild animal like a raccoon, skunk, or bat. You may need a tetanus or rabies vaccine.
  • The bite is large, or it doesn’t stop bleeding after you’ve held pressure on it for 15 minutes. It may need to be closed with stitches.
  • You think the bite may have damaged a bone, tendons, or nerves, because you can’t bend or straighten the body part or you’ve lost feeling in it.
  • The wound is red, swollen, or oozing fluid.

How do I treat bee, wasp, and other insect stings?

Here’s what to do:

  • If the insect has left behind a stinger, remove it from the skin so less of the venom gets into your body. You can scrape out the stinger with the edge of a credit card or the dull edge of a knife. Don’t squeeze the stinger. You might release more of the venom into your skin.
  • Once the stinger is out or if there is no stinger, wash the area around the sting with soap and water.
  • Hold an ice pack or cool washcloth to the sting to stop it from swelling.
  • Spread calamine lotion or baking soda mixed with water to relieve pain.
  • To prevent itching, use a spray or cream containing hydrocortisone or antihistamine.

How do I treat a mosquito bite?

Here’s what to do:

  • Apply firm pressure to the bite for 10 seconds to help stop the itch.
  • Use a baking soda paste or hydrocortisone cream 4 times a day to relieve itching. Don’t have either on hand? Holding ice or a wet washcloth on the bite will also help.
  • Take an antihistamine if the bite is very itchy.

What are the signs that my child is allergic to the insect?

It’s normal for the skin around the insect sting to swell up and get red. But call 911 or go to the emergency room if you see any of these signs of an allergic reaction:

Anyone who has allergies to bees, wasps, or other stinging insects should keep an epinephrine auto-injector at home, work, and school in case of a sting.

How do I treat a spider bite?

For most of the harmless types of spiders you’ll find at home, treatment is pretty simple:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Hold an ice pack or cool washcloth to the bite to relieve pain and bring down swelling.

How do I know if a spider is poisonous?

Spiders might be creepy and crawly, but most of them aren’t poisonous. The poisonous spiders to watch out for are the brown recluse and black widow. Here’s how to spot them:

  • Brown recluse spiders are about 1/2-inch long. They’re brown and have a mark in the shape of a violin on their back.
  • Black widow spiders are black with a red hourglass-shaped mark on their stomach.

What should I do for a poisonous spider bite?

If you think you were bitten by a poisonous spider like a brown recluse or black widow, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away. Look for these signs:

What are the different types of burns?

Grabbing a hot pot or splashing boiling water on your skin are just two common causes of burns around the house. When you get a burn, first check to see which type it is. Some are more serious than others.

  • First-degree burns are painful but minor. They turn red and may swell.
  • Second-degree burns form blisters. The skin may be very red and painful.
  • Third-degree burns make the skin look white or charred. The burns may not hurt because nerves have been damaged.

When should I see a doctor?

Serious burns need to be treated by a doctor or in a hospital. Call for medical help if:

  • You have a third-degree burn.
  • The burn is larger than 2 to 3 inches.
  • The burn is on your face, hands, feet, or over a joint like your shoulder or knee.
  • The burn goes all the way around a hand, arm, foot, or leg.
  • The pain gets worse instead of better.
  • The burn was caused by electricity or a chemical.
  • You see fluid or pus oozing from the burn.

How do I treat burns?

You can treat minor first-degree burns and small second-degree burns at home. Here’s what to do:

  • Place the burned area under running cool water for at least 5 minutes to reduce swelling.
  • Apply an antiseptic spray, antibiotic ointment, or aloe vera cream to soothe the area.
  • Loosely wrap a gauze bandage around the burn.
  • To relieve pain, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

Never put butter on a burn or pop any blisters that form. You could damage the skin and cause an infection.

How do I treat a sunburn?

  • Always wear sunscreen when you’re outdoors to protect your skin from the sun. If you stay outside for too long without protection, you can get a red, itchy burn that may blister. As soon as you spot a sunburn, head inside to treat it.
  • Soothe your burned skin with a cool, damp washcloth. Or take a cool shower or bath. Pat your skin dry afterward. Be gentle -- your sunburn may be sore.
  • Apply an aloe vera lotion. Or use a hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itch. Do not use lotions that contain petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine. These ingredients can irritate the skin even more.
  • If the sunburn is really sore, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to relieve the pain.
  • A sunburn can dry out your body. Drink extra water so you won’t get dehydrated.
  • Give your sunburn time to heal. Cover your burned skin with clothing and a hat to protect it when you go outside.

See a doctor if you have blisters on the sunburn, or you get a fever or chills. Don’t pop the blisters. They could get infected.

How do I treat a rash from poison ivy or other poisonous plants?

When you touch poison ivy -- or poison oak or sumac -- the rash that appears on your skin is caused by an oil in the plant. The rash may itch and blister. But it should go away on its own within a few weeks.

Treat the rash and itch at home with these steps:

  • Wash your skin. To get as much of the oil off as possible, clean your skin with soap and lukewarm water.
  • Wash everything. Clean anything the plant touched -- your clothes, gardening tools, even your pet. The oil can stick to these objects and cause a rash if you touch them again.
  • Bathe in oatmeal. Run a warm bath and add some colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to ease the itch. You can also apply a cool, wet washcloth to your skin.
  • Apply calamine or hydrocortisone cream. These products will also relieve the itch. If creams and lotions aren’t enough to soothe itchy skin, ask your doctor whether you should take an antihistamine or steroid medicine by mouth.
  • Don’t scratch! Though the rash might itch, resist the urge to scratch or pick at the blisters. You could get an infection.

When should I get medical help for poison ivy, oak, or sumac?

Go to the emergency room if you have:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Rashes or blisters on a large part of your body, or on your face or genitals
  • Swelling, especially of the eyes
  • An itch you can’t relieve, no matter what medicine or lotion you use
  • A fever over 100 F
  • A rash that hasn’t gone away after a few weeks

What’s the difference between a sprain and strain?

Sprains and strains are common injuries. Here’s how to tell the difference:

  • A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament, the tough tissue that connects bones and supports the joints. You’re most likely to get a sprain in the wrist or ankle. Sprains cause pain, bruising, and swelling. You may have trouble moving the joint.
  • A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, the thick tissue that attaches muscles to bones. You’re most likely to get a strain in your back or hamstring muscles. Strains cause pain, weakness, swelling, and muscle cramps. You may have trouble moving the muscle.

How do I treat sprains and strains?

For a mild sprain or strain:

  • Rest the limb to give it a chance to heal.
  • Hold ice on the area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day, to bring down swelling. Don’t use heat -- it could make the area swell even more.
  • Wrap an elastic bandage or splint around the sprain or strain.
  • Put a pillow under the injured body part to keep it raised.
  • Take over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen to relieve the pain.

For a more severe sprain or strain, where there’s a lot of pain, swelling, and you have trouble moving around, see your doctor. You may need crutches or physical therapy.


Call 911 for any medical emergency, including when a person has:

What should I do when I call 911?

Tell the operator:

  • The type of emergency
  • The telephone number you’re calling from
  • The address where the emergency is happening
  • Details about the person’s condition -- what happened to them, the type of injuries they have, and what has been done so far to treat them

The 911 operator might tell you step by step how to help the person who has been injured. DO NOT HANG UP until the operator hangs up.

How can I prepare for an emergency?

  • Keep a fully stocked first-aid kit in your home and car.
  • Have up-to-date copies of each person’s medical history in your home and car.
  • Post an emergency contact sheet next to each phone in the house. Show it to everyone who spends time in your home, including family members and babysitters.
  • Make sure your children know what number to dial -- 911 -- and what they should tell the operator.

Emergency Contact Sheet


Poison Control Center: 800-222-1222



Hospital name: Phone:

Doctor’s name: Phone:

Dentist’s name: Phone:

Pharmacy name: Phone:

Health insurance plan:

Policy number: Phone:


Emergency Contact 1





Emergency Contact 2





Family contact information

Home phone:



Parent name:

Cell number:

Work number:

Medical Conditions:

Allergies/Other info:


Parent name:

Cell number:

Work number:

Medical Conditions:

Allergies/Other info:


Child’s name:

Child’s date of birth:

Medical Conditions:

Allergies/Other info:


Child’s name:

Child’s date of birth:

Medical Conditions:

Allergies/Other info:


Child’s name:

Child’s date of birth:

Medical Conditions:

Allergies/Other info: