Summer Fun Calls for a First-Aid Kit
Kristen Ufferman, M.D.
Family Medicine, Rush Copley Medical Group
Q: My kids tend to suffer in the summer from bee stings, bug bites and sunburns. What can I do to limit their risks this summer? What essentials should I have on hand for first aid?
A: Summer, with all the outdoor activities, weather and travel, provides limitless opportunities for injuries and allergic reactions. Some of the most common summer injuries don't require more than what you would have in a first aid kit. Here are some things you can do to help limit your family's risks and have a safer summer.
Insect bites, bee stings
If you're spending time in tall grass or woody areas, use insect repellent with DEET to ward off mosquitoes and ticks. Insect repellent should not be used on infants and repellent used on children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET. To keep bees away, wear light-colored clothing and avoid scented soaps and perfumes. Don't leave food, drinks and garbage out uncovered.
If you suffer from an insect bite and it has left the stinger behind, as evidenced by blackish particles on the skin, scrap the stinger away in a side-to-side motion with your fingernail, then wash the area with soap and water. Don't try to pull the stinger out with tweezers, you may push more venom further into the skin.
Be mindful of allergic reaction to stings, which typically happen within the first few hours. Any systemic reaction should be seen by a doctor immediately. This includes hives, facial swelling, shortness of breath or wheezing, difficulty swallowing or light-headedness. These symptoms usually occur within minutes to an hour after the sting. Local reactions generally don't require professional care. However, if your local reaction causes enough swelling or pain to distract you from your normal activities or keep you awake despite basic treatment, see a doctor.
To prevent sunburns, the best thing to do is avoid the sun. Since this is not always feasible, there are several things you can do to protect your kids from getting burns. Apply and reapply sunscreen every 30 minutes. Sunscreens protect your skin from UV rays and are classified according to the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). An SPF 30 blocks out 97 percent of the burning UV rays but only if you apply it thickly. Blocks with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are best.
If you do suffer a sunburn, there is little you can do to stop skin from peeling after a sunburn—it is part of the healing process. Lotions may help relieve some of the itching. Other ways to get relief include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids – sunburns can cause you to become dehydrated.
- Take cool showers or baths and apply cool clothes to the sunburned areas of skin.
- Apply soothing lotions that contain aloe vera. Topical steroids, such as one percent hydrocortisone cream may also help with sunburn pain and swelling.
The following items are some basics to keep on hand at home and in a first aid kit if you are traveling this summer.
- Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin
- Antihistamine such as Benadryl
- Diarrhea medication
- Heartburn medication
- Motion sickness medicine
- An oral medicine syringe for giving medicine to young children
- Scissors with rounded tips
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Gauze pads or rolled gauze
- Adhesive bandages in various sizes
- Cotton swabs
- Bandage closures or safety pins
- Instant-activating cold packs
- Instant heat packs
If you are going to be away on vacation for an extended period of time, be sure you pack an adequate supply of any prescription drugs you take. It is also important to keep a list of emergency phone numbers, like your physician on hand in your kit.