As hospitals and clinics focus all their resources on the COVID-19 pandemic, now may not be the best time to go to the doctor, if you can avoid it. It’s probably a good idea to put together a robust emergency kit, just so that you can be prepared at home in case you have to deal with illness or injuries.
“I encourage people to have a basic kit, and the items within it are going to be different for different people,” says Dr. Petrina Craine, an emergency medicine physician in New York City.
When you assemble your kit, think beyond basic First Aid supplies and consider other items you might need. This could include supplies to help you treat a potential mild case of COVID-19, but also supplies to help you get through such ailments as seasonal allergies or a painful cut from slicing vegetables.
Of course, if you’re in a true emergency, don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room or call 911, says Dr. Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, assistant professor of pediatrics and director of pre-hospital and EMS at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“Things like trouble breathing, severe chest pain, unrelenting headaches, any sort of injury that’s significant,” she says. “All of these things should be taken care of right away.”
But for everyday illness, opt for a televisit with your primary care provider, or call a local nurse hotline.
Even people with coronavirus symptoms have been instructed to stay home and manage their own care in mild cases.
So, is your home emergency kit up to the task of home care? Check the list below and make sure you have all the essentials for staying healthy and comfortable at home.
Stock up on medications uniquely relevant to you
Ask yourself: Do I have any medical problems or particular issues—and if so, what do I need to address them?
“For example, if I had diabetes or suffered from high blood pressure, I would want to make sure I had those medicines,” Craine says.
The same goes for prenatal vitamins for pregnant women, inhalers for asthma sufferers, or an EpiPen for people with severe allergies.
Craine suggests keeping a one- to two-month supply of prescription medicines on hand. Ask your primary care physician to write a one-time prescription for you, for a larger quantity.
You’ll also want to stock up on any over-the-counter medications or supplements that you take regularly.
Be prepared for common illness and injury
That could be anything from a cold to a cut, so it’s important to put together an emergency kit that covers the essentials in a range of categories.
Don’t worry about picking up every medication at the pharmacy—just aim to cover the basics.
“These are things you could use different times throughout the year,” Craine says. “Preparing for these common ailments also helps you be prepared for a viral illness.”
- Tourniquet kit
Given the requirement for so many people to stay at home, with reduced access to health care facilities, Owusu-Ansah suggests keeping a tourniquet on hand in case of a deep or severe cut.
“If somebody injures a major vessel, you could potentially bleed out, so simple things like learning how to apply direct pressure, having a lot of gauze, and a tourniquet can help with those things,” she says.
- Antibiotic creams
- Lip balm
- Aquaphor or Vaseline
Fever and pain
- Cool packs
- Heat packs
- Acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen
Acetaminophen—commonly known by the brand name Tylenol—has been in short supply after the World Health Organization recommended using acetaminophen rather than ibuprofen to treat coronavirus symptoms.
The organization later clarified that either acetaminophen or ibuprofen is safe to use. If you prefer acetaminophen but have trouble finding it, you might be able to find it combined with other medications, Craine says.
“Just be aware of what other drugs are in a particular formulation and make sure they don’t interact with other medications you take,” she says.
Allergies and sinuses
- Saline nasal spray
“In case you’re cooking, and something gets into your eye, you want to flush your eye out as much as possible,” Owusu-Ansah says.
- Anti-nausea medicines
- Fiber supplements, stool softeners, or laxatives
It’s a good idea to stock your pantry with “simple things like food bars that are high-calorie,” Owusu-Ansah says. “Not everybody was a chef before this.” Plus, if you’re sick or injured, you may not feel like venturing out to the grocery store for food.
Keep about a week’s supply of canned and nonperishable foods in your emergency kit, including electrolyte drinks and water purification tablets if you need them.
Hygiene and basic cleaning items
If you’re sick at home, the last thing you want is to leave the house because you ran out of toothpaste, tissue, or other basics. Consider keeping these essentials in your emergency kit:
- Baby wipes
- Feminine hygiene products
- Shaving cream
- Toilet paper
- Hydrogen peroxide
Little things that make life more enjoyable
Small indulgences “like having chocolate, or your favorite lotion” are worth adding to your emergency kit, Craine says. Small touches of this kind can help lift your spirits if you’re stuck at home with illness or injury.
Create a kit for each member of the household
Parents of small children and the caretakers of elderly family members should put together multiple emergency kits: one for yourself, and one for each of the other people in the household.
For example, parents may want to keep an extra supply of Band-Aids for kids who are prone to scrapes and cuts, along with extra diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and baby essentials.
“In particular, with pediatrics, kids grow,” Owusu-Ansah says. “Depending on how long this COVID thing is, your kid could have a growth spurt, and then they would be underdosed [for their medications]. Be keenly aware of things like that.”
A final tip: Don’t set it and forget it
Hopefully, you won’t need to use your emergency kit often (or even at all!). But you shouldn’t let it collect dust, either.
“These kits can sit around, and you want to make sure you check on them at least once a month to see if there’s anything expired,” Craine says.
“We definitely wouldn’t want someone to use expired medication. And seeing if something needs to be restocked helps you prepare for any sort of medical crises that happen.”