What Expires in a First Aid Kit?

Having a well equipped first aid kit on hand is essential for dealing with emergency situations. In fact, the right first aid could save someone’s life. That’s why it’s important your first aid supplies are kept up to date.

Many first aid items expire over time and need replacing in order to perform properly and safely. Keeping expired items can be unsafe to use so having a schedule to check and restock first aid kits is crucial.

Keep in mind that not all items will have an expiry date on the packaging. It’s important to know how to spot aged equipment. The tips below walk you through different first aid items, when they expire and how often you should replace them.

Medications

In Australia, all medications in your first aid kit are required by law to have an expiry date. That includes things like aspirin and ibuprofen, antiseptic creams, antihistamines and epinephrine injections.

Over time, the chemicals in medicines break down, making them less effective. In some cases, they can become dangerous if they undergo unsafe chemical changes.

In an emergency, especially when treating a serious injury, using out of date medication could be life threatening. That’s why you should be particularly careful with things like EpiPens for anaphylactic reactions and insulin for diabetes.

Eye drops

Eye drops are saline solutions which usually contain medicines to lubricate the eyes or relieve itchiness. They usually last 1-2 years when unopened. However, once you have opened the eye drops, it’s recommended not to use them beyond 3 months as the risk of contamination increases.

Once the solution comes in contact with oxygen, it can speed up the degradation process. Plus, there’s more risk of the solution being exposed to harmful bacteria after it’s been opened.

Dressings and bandages

Dressings and bandages may not have an expiry date on their packaging, but they can degrade over time and lose their effectiveness.

Once opened, sterile bandages may no longer be sterile and should be thrown away if not used. Adhesive dressings may lose their stickiness over time and become ineffective. Dressings may also become less absorbent with time.

Dressings and bandages should be regularly inspected for signs of degradation, discoloration and mould. If any of these are found, you should replace them with first aid kit refills.

Sterile wipes

Once opened, sterile wipes will no longer be sterile. If the seal on sterile wipe packaging has been damaged or discoloured, you should assume the wipes are no longer sterile. Discard and replace with fresh wipes.

Sterile gloves

Latex or nitrile gloves can break down over time and become less effective at protecting your hands and keeping a first aid situation sterile. Gloves that have been removed from the original packaging or exposed to moisture may have an even shorter shelf life.

You should check the manufacturer’s expiry date for latex and nitrile gloves. Latex gloves often have a shelf life of 3 years while for nitrile gloves it’s typically 5 years. However, you should check your gloves for signs of aging, discoloration and brittleness. Discard any that are likely to break or crack when used.

Cold compress

Cold compresses or instant ice packs have an expiry date, typically 18-24 months. They may still work after the use-by date, however their effectiveness and quickness may decrease with time. To ensure you have a kit that’s ready for any emergency, it’s best to replace cold compresses when they pass their used-by date.

Medical tape

Medical tape can degrade over time and lose its stickiness, becoming ineffective. Check your tape for signs of wear and replace if it is no longer sticky. You should also replace tape if it has been wet, stained or damaged before its used-by date.

Scissors, tweezers and forceps

First aid implements like scissors, tweezers and forceps don’t have an expiry date per se, but they can lose their effectiveness and become unsafe if they are corroded, rusted or misshapen. Replace any items that are damaged to ensure a safe and sterile first aid kit.

Replenish your first aid kit

First aid situations are usually unpredictable and unavoidable. Responding quickly is crucial as it can improve outcomes and may even save someone’s life. Having first aid equipment and tools on hand that are effective, safe and up to date means you can provide someone with the help they need straight away.

Keep in mind that different locations and environments may require different first aid equipment, depending on the particular risks faced. For example, remote locations require snake bite first aid tools and worksites with dangerous chemicals require eye washing equipment.

It’s important to regularly inspect your first aid kit to ensure you have the right types of supplies and that they are safe and effective to use. Restocking your first aid kit regularly will make sure you’re ready to handle any first aid emergency that arises.