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What is the Irrigation Syringe in My First Aid Kit For?

by Sean McNally, Wilderness First Aid Instructor, Mountaineering Guide

Pre-made First Aid Kits come stocked with all kinds of items that can be used in an emergency. If you’ve taken a First Aid class or Wilderness First Aid class, some of the contents should look familiar. Some items are more useful than others, however, and I often adjust the contents of my First Aid Kit to match where I’m going and what I’m doing. An irrigation syringe is one item I keep in my kit no matter what.


    An irrigation syringe is a highly effective tool for cleaning wounds. In my experience responding to emergencies in a wilderness environment, I know that a properly cleaned wound can be the difference between staying out and an emergency evacuation with a trip to the hospital. This is why I always have an irrigation syringe in my kit, and they come pre-stocked in so many others.


    To use this vital tool, all you need is clean water (safe enough to drink). Use the syringe to thoroughly flush the wound out with the clean water. Make sure that you get as deep as you can into the wound and that every part of the injury is cleaned.


You should not see anything inside the wound and eventually the water should start running clear with no sign of dirt or mud. To thoroughly clean a wound, you might need to use as much as 3 liters of water or more. That can feel like a lot when you’re using one syringe full at a time but be patient and diligent—the work you put in during cleaning will pay off long term.


    There are a few things that make the irrigation syringe especially effective, and a must-have for any First Aid Kit:
•    The design of the syringe allows you to clean hard to reach places in complex wounds.
•    There aren’t many effective ways to improvise a syringe when you need one
•    A wound that hasn’t been properly cleaned can result in infection and eventually sepsis—a life threatening condition
•    If you are in a wilderness environment, soft tissue injuries are one of the most common to occur, so cleaning wounds is a fairly important skill

If you make the decision not to seek medical attention, then continuously monitor the area for signs of infection. Be ready to reclean the wound if you detect any early signs of infection and never hesitate to seek professional medical help.


When you go to purchase a syringe, there are a couple of things to look for.  I prefer a syringe with a curved tip, which allows me to easily clean in hard to reach places like under skin flaps or avulsions. The curve also lets me keep my hand perpendicular to the wound while I clean it, which is a much more comfortable and natural position. A pretty standard syringe will be 12ccs in capacity and have a flat plunger for your thumb. This is enough to get adequate pressure when you’re cleaning a wound, but not so much that it is taking up too much room in your First Aid Kit.


Hopefully now you have a good understanding of how important and useful an irrigation syringe can be. Whether it’s a home, car, or backcountry First Aid Kit, an irrigation syringe should be considered an essential component.

May 5th, 2020


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Published on May 6, 2020