Unless you have a hospital grade medical kit with you 24/7 there are going to be times when you find yourself in a situation where you just don’t have what you need to deal with a medical issue. You may be surprised to find that many everyday household items can get you out of a tight spot. You don’t have to be in the middle of the wilderness hunting to be caught out, accidents at home land millions of people in accident and emergency every year. A little forethought, and the knowledge of how to make the best of what you have around you can make a massive difference to the outcome for the victim of an accident.
Whilst any plastic bag will do, ziplock bags tend to be somewhat thicker, and therefore stronger, than regular plastic food bags. They have several medical uses.
- They are excellent for keeping dirt out of wounds on the hands and feet.
2. They’re ideal for dressing burns as they help prevent fluid loss and will not stick to the burn site.
3. They can be lifesavers when used as a flutter valve. Placed over a chest wound and secured with tape…even duct tape on three sides, they allow air in the chest cavity to escape own exhalation, and then seal the hole on inhalation which allows a punctured lung to re-inflate. Many lives have been saved by improvised flutter valves over the years and hopefully by explaining how simple it is many more lives will be saved in the future.
4. Cling film can be used in the same way as ziplock bags and wrapping a burn or wound on the arms, legs or trunk in plastic film helps greatly in preventing infection caused by contamination of the wound. Although you can make a flutter valve out of the film it’s very fiddly and not nearly as effective as making one out of a sturdier sheet of plastic.
5. Gathering plastic wrap together so it resembles a rope gives it a much higher tensile strength than it has when it’s used in a sheet. It becomes strong enough to use as a makeshift tourniquet. It’s slippery when wet but its quite easy to tie in a double knot to slow or stem blood loss from a gaping wound on a limb.
6. Any small plastic card can be turned into a small flutter valve. taped on three sides it works exactly like a small zip lock bag does allowing the re-inflation of a collapsed lung. The thicker plastic makes it less suitable for injured children as their lung capacity is much lower than an adults and they may not be able to move the ‘valve’.
7. Cutting the card into strips allows small splints to be made for broken fingers. Just put a strip of plastic each side of the damaged digit and tape into place.
8. The edge of the card can be used as a scraper to remove wasp and bee stings. Tweezers shouldn’t be used as squeezing the end of the string as you grab it pumps more venom into the victim.
Duct tape has literally thousands of uses…way too many for the scope of this article but a few stand out that we can cover. Duct tape and couple of sticks or anything thing else that is relatively straight will make an excellent improvised splint.
9. Cut three inches longer than the dressing pad you are using, its adhesive properties means it can hold a pressure dressing in place with ease. It should overlap the pad by 2-3 inches on all sides to make sure it is creating adequate pressure to control bleeding.
10. Again, due to it’s adhesion ,small strips will hold the sides of a wound together preventing further tissue damage to the edges of the wound and helping to control bleeding.
11. Cut a small disc and cover warts, change every two days…the wart will soon reduce in size then vanish.
Feminine hygiene products
12. A penetrating wound such as a gunshot needs something stuffed into the hole to prevent bleeding and a tampon is ideal for this use. As they expand in all directions they exert a gentle pressure that helps seal small vessels and stem blood loss.
13. A sanitary pad applied on top of such a wound and held with duct tape as described above makes an almost perfect battlefield pressure dressing. Properly applied pressure dressings encourage larger vessels to ‘clot off’ and can in many cases prevent death due to blood loss. (hypovolemia)
14. Panty liners are great as makeshift dressing for non-life threatening wounds, just secure in place with any tape you have to hand.
Hair elastics/scrunchies/elastic bands
15. Tourniquets for small diameter limbs.
16. A couple of them can be used to hold a dressing in place if you have no tape. Ideal for holding ziplock bags in place (see above) Make sure they fit snugly but not tightly to maintain an adequate blood supply to the limb.
17. Cut off the top and bottom and then cut the plastic top to bottom. You will have a sheet of rigid plastic that curls back to its bottle shape when you let go of it. These sheets can be unfurled for want of a better word, and when placed around a broken arm assist with immobilisation. Hold in place with tape.
18. By holding their original shape they will hold a dressing in place, just gently guide the edges so that they overlap giving a snug fit and put a strip of tape across to hold it in place. Ideal for babies, toddlers and anyone who is likely to pull off a dressing.
19. Safety pins can be used to fix a sleeve to the body of a shirt holds a damaged arm in place without having to over manipulate the arm by getting it into a sling.
20. The point of the pin can remove small foreign bodies such as splinters.
21. If sterilised with a flame can be used to puncture the skin to allow pus to drain from a boil or abscess. Although draining an abscess is not advisable if you are within reach of medical assistance. If you are not the pus is better outside the body than in it. Make a single stab with the pin at the lowest point of the abscess and let gravity help it drain. Apply a clean dressing of some kind and check at least every 12 hours, changing the dressing as needed.
22. If you know that a collapsed casualty with no obvious cause for the collapse is a diabetic then you should suspect that low blood sugar has caused a ‘hypo’. This is an abnormally low blood sugar level that causes collapse, coma and if not treated promptly, death. Dissolve a spoon of sugar in a very small amount of water to form a slushy mixture and put it into their mouth between their bottom lip and their lower gums. If they are on their side aim for the inside of the cheek that is nearest the ground. Keep watch on their airway as you would any unconscious casualty. The sugar should seep into their bloodstream via the mucous membranes inside their mouth. Many diabetics carry a small bottle/pouch of gel that does exactly the same thing, if they have one, use it. You may need to treat a hypo several times before consciousness returns.
23. Sugar poured into an open wound doesn’t sting and keeps wounds clean. Studies suggest it actually promotes healing.
24. Burnt your tongue/mouth eating or drinking something hot? Got a mouth ulcer? Put regular sugar on the burn or ulcer for almost instant pain relief.
25. Natural yoghurt takes the heat out of sunburn and steam burns. Spread liberally over the burn and cover with a plastic bag or plastic film. How long the relief lasts depends on the severity of the burn. Reapply as needed without wiping off the previous layer. Wiping a burn will rip any blisters that have appeared and allow contamination to get into the skin possibly causing infection. If you need to remove the last application rinse it gently in cool water and allow to air dry before slapping on more yoghurt.
Ice /bag of frozen peas
26. Ice/peas works the same way as yoghurt, it takes the sting out of burns but is too much of a shock for large areas such as a sunburnt back, particularly for children. The pain receptors that distinguish heat and cold are closely related and ice applied to a large area can sometimes be as painful as the burn seeming to intensify the sensations. Better used for smaller areas such as fingers/hands.
27. A bag of frozen loose veg such as peas or sweetcorn is also useful for sprains as the cold takes down the swelling quite quickly often allowing a return to mobility, as the pain and swelling subside.
Tea is far more than a morning drink! Tea has anti-inflammatory properties and encourages blood clotting.
28. Pour a small amount of boiling water on the bag and allow to cool. Put the bag on a minor abrasion or even a tooth socket to stop bleeding and reduce inflammation.
29. Kitchen foil can replace a mylar/space blanket in emergencies. Heat is reflected from the shiny surface back onto the patient preventing them from cooling. Putting foil or an emergency blanket on a casualty that’s already cold will not reheat them as efficiency as body heat from another person. Wrapping a casualty with a high temperature in any sort of foil will cause rapid overheating, and can induce convulsions.
Well there you go, a few ideas of everyday items that can help you out in a medical emergency. I’m sure you have your own go to favourites, feel free to share them by leaving a comment.