How to Build a Summer First-Aid Kit

Minor injuries are as much a part of summer as swimming pools, baseball games and camping trips. Fortunately, most can be easily treated, especially if you have a well-stocked first-aid kit close at hand.

But what do you put inside? We asked two UNC Health primary care physicians, Modjulie Moore, MD, and Gillian Aylward, MD, for their suggestions.

First-Aid Kit Basics

Many first-aid kits can be bought already filled with small sizes of necessary items. If you get one of these kits, make sure it contains these basic items, according to both doctors and the American Red Cross:

  • Adhesive bandages (Band-Aids and many other brands) of all sizes
  • Butterfly bandages (Steri-Strips) to hold cuts together
    (If you need one of these bandages, you’ll want to check with a doctor as soon as you can to see if the cut needs stitches or other treatment.)
  • An antiseptic to clean cuts and scrapes (Dr. Aylward recommends povidone-iodine) or clean water and soap
  • Antibiotic ointment or cream (such as Neosporin, Polysporin or Bacitracin)
  • Sterile gauze pads of different sizes (choose a kind that doesn’t stick to the wound—check the label)
  • Adhesive tape (consider self-adhesive tape or micropore tape that is gentler on the skin)
  • Tweezers (for removing ticks, splinters or other objects not too deep in the skin)
  • Antihistamine cream for bug bites

Customize Your First-Aid Kit

Depending on what activities you will be doing, how long you will be away from home, and the people with you (children, older adults, large groups), you should supplement your kit with additional supplies you may need. Here are some ideas:

  • Sunscreen: Put sunscreen on all skin that is exposed to sunlight, including your face, ears and neck, Dr. Moore says. Reapply every hour on anyone who is sweating or in water, and every two to four hours for others.

“If you’re at a sporting event, don’t forget the family members who are watching,” she says. “The kids may be in the dugout or under a tent, but those in the stands may be exposed longer to the sun.”

  • Insecticide: Because bug bites can be itchy at best and dangerous at worst—depending on the type of insect and a person’s allergies—make sure you wear insecticide when you will be outside, Dr. Moore says.

“Make sure you put insect repellent around your ankles,” she says. “That’s a good way to get rid of mosquitoes and deer ticks.”

  • Antihistamine cream and pills: If someone is allergic to insect bites or plants (such as poison ivy), antihistamines can help reduce itching and swelling. Make sure you know if the person can tolerate an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, before giving them anything by mouth.
  • Disposable ice packs: These can be handy for many kinds of pain, from sprains to insect bites. Dr. Aylward recommends stocking a first-aid kit with a disposable cold pack that you shake or twist to activate.

“Those kinds of ice packs can stay in your kit a long time,” she says.

  • Ace bandages: Elastic bandages help reduce swelling of an injured area and can help stabilize loose joints. Ace is the brand name, but people often refer to any elastic bandage by this name. Make sure you do not wrap the bandage so tight that you cut off circulation. Elastic bandages also can be used to keep an ice pack in place. Dr. Aylward also suggests you consider bringing elastic bandages for wrists and knees that slip into place without having to be wrapped. These braces help support those important joints.
  • Gloves: Disposable gloves help keep the injury cleaner and may prevent the transmission of diseases and illness, Dr. Aylward says. Latex gloves are easy to use, but if someone is allergic to latex or if you don’t know, use plastic non-latex gloves.
  • Nail clippers: Summer is the season for bare feet and sandals. That’s why Dr. Moore suggests bringing nail clippers in addition to tweezers to help care for feet if someone gets a splinter or stubs a toe.

“Sometimes the nail gets broken,” she says, “and clippers can be a great tool to have.”

  • Medical scissors or trauma shears: Some injuries may require that clothes come off to get to the wound or prevent circulation from being cut off if an area or limb is swelling. Trauma shears can help get garments off quickly. They also may be used to remove bandages.
  • Ways to cool off and stay hydrated: Moore recommends cooling towels, often made of microfiber and found in sporting goods sections. Pour water on them and wrap them around someone’s neck to reduce their temperature.

“This is especially important if you are doing strenuous work outside in the heat,” Dr. Moore says.

She also recommends packets of oral rehydration powder or Gatorade.

“If someone is dehydrated, these help get them rehydrated as soon as possible,” she says.

Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially in the heat.

  • CPR mask: These small masks can be used to cover someone’s nose and mouth if they need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The mask helps get air into a person’s lungs. Dr. Moore also recommends that people consider getting CPR training to be prepared in emergencies.
  • Trauma preparations: If you are camping, hiking, biking or going anywhere that will make getting medical treatment more difficult, you may want to be prepared for bigger emergencies. Dr. Aylward suggests having a blanket, flashlight, tourniquets, splints and a multipurpose tool on hand.
  • Ear drops: If you’re swimming and get water in your ears, drops can help prevent ear infections. Buy drops labeled for preventing swimmer’s ear, or you can use isopropyl alcohol. “Putting a drop in your ear and letting it drain out helps to dry up the ear canal so water doesn’t stagnate,” Dr. Moore says.

Keep Your First-Aid Kit Up to Date

Before you leave the house with your first-aid kit, make sure everything is current, both doctors recommend. Check the expiration dates on items, make sure you have not used up anything and need replacements, and get fresh batteries if they are part of your kit.

Well-equipped first-aid kits can be essential to reacting quickly to an allergic reaction, wound, heat exhaustion or any other risks that summer brings, Dr. Aylward says.

“React quickly, and if necessary, get medical help as soon as you can,” she says. “The sooner you get attention, the better the outcome.”

Need a doctor to examine a summertime injury? Find one near you.