A Question Of Health

What should go in my home-made first aid kit?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Q. We are going camping soon on a school trip with young children, and I want to put together a cheap, lightweight first aid kit. The ready-made kits seem to be outrageously expensive. The children are between six and nine years old.

A. I would start off with a few resealable plastic sandwich bags of different sizes, including one large one to put everything else into. For small cuts and gashes, take a supply of plasters and some squares for blisters. Get a few Melolin gauze squares, which are good for grazes and burns. You will also need a small roll of Micropore sticky tape. If the children can take tablets, carry a small supply of Paracetamol or ibuprofen tablets. If they can't, get some small sachets of Paracetamol liquid, or dissoluble tablets. Tubes of antihistamine and antiseptic cream are good, and you may want to consider a roll of stretchy elastic bandage for sprained ankles. I would also take some tweezers for removing splinters, a small pair of scissors and a torch. All this shouldn't cost more than a few pounds.

MISSING MINERALS

Q. I was feeling generally weak and tired so my GP decided to carry out some blood tests. The first one showed a slightly low potassium level (3.4 mmol) in my blood. I increased the potassium in my diet and had another blood test six weeks later. Surprisingly, the next blood test showed an even lower level (3.3). I lead an active life, don't smoke and eat a healthy diet. The only medication I take is the occasional puff on an asthma inhaler. I also take a herbal water pill for a week before my periods, which helps to relieve a feeling of bloating. What can I do to get my potassium level up to normal, or perhaps it doesn't matter?

A. Potassium is one of the critical minerals in the body, and an abnormal potassium level can cause all sorts of serious problems. Having said that, I doubt that your levels of potassium are low enough to cause any symptoms at all. The normal level in the bloodstream is between 3.5 and 5mmol. Quite a few people, however, lead perfectly healthy lives with levels slightly below 3.5mmol. The commonest reason why people have a low level of potassium in their blood is because they take medications that force their kidneys to lose too much potassium in the urine. Diuretics (commonly known as water pills) force the kidneys to lose potassium, particularly in elderly people. I don't know what your herbal water pills contain, but I would not be surprised if they are the cause of your low potassium. Herbal diuretics usually contain things like dandelion and nettle. I would suggest that you stop your herbal pills for a few months.

Have your say: Readers write

A natural solution to the problem of babies' sticky eyes, from AE of Lincolnshire:

My midwife suggested direct application of breast milk. I squirted it into the affected eye during feeds and it did clear up in a day or two.

A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; e-mail health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier cannot respond personally.

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