15 summer first aid kit essentials

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Whether you’re holidaying somewhere local or have decided to get a flight abroad, stock up on these holiday first aid essentials

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Quick facts

  • Prevention is the best policy — but be prepared and carry first aid essentials
  • Cooling sprays and gels provide rapid relief from muscle sprains
  • Rehydration salts speed recovery

Life doesn’t always go to plan — particularly when young children are part of your life. So, it’s wise to be prepared with a first aid kit of the essentials needed to treat a range of summer injuries and health issues.

You can buy ready-made kits which include the basics, such as plasters, alcohol wipes and an antiseptic cream. But it’s easy to create your own, and tailor it to cover the family’s activities, allergies and individual needs.

Start with a waterproof, drawstring bag which you can sling over a shoulder or buggy. Then use our list to ensure that you’re the mum, or dad, who is well-prepared this summer.

1. Water

You won’t find it in ready-made kits but a bottle of water is often the first thing you’ll need to rinse an injury, wash off an irritant, or provide a distraction from discomfort. It also ensures healthy hydration or rehydration in the event of tummy troubles, sunburn or heat stroke — especially when used with rehydrating salts (see below).

2. Sunscreen

Prevention is always the best policy, so use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA (a 3 star-rating or more) and UVB (an SPF of 30 or higher). As a guide, adults need 2 teaspoons to cover the neck, arms and face, or 2 tablespoons when wearing a swimsuit. But as children come in all sizes, the best advice is to apply it liberally and regularly.

Read more about sun safety for the family.

3. Disposable gloves

More of us are carrying them already because of Covid-19 but using thin gloves will also prevent any cross-contamination while treating cuts, abrasions and other injuries. Look for non-latex, powder-free gloves if allergies are an issue.

4. Hand sanitiser

Regular use of a hand-sanitising gel or wipes is essential when it isn’t possible to wash your hands. Use hand sanitiser before eating or after touching high-traffic surfaces such as handrails. Be sure to choose products which work against both bacteria and viruses.

5. Bandages and plasters

Start with a selection of sterile gauze, stretch bandages and waterproof plasters. You might also want to add transparent film dressings. These act as a second skin and are great for grazes and awkward but accident-prone areas such as knees and elbows. Butterfly bandages, also known as wound-closure strips, are useful for deeper cuts.

6. Insect repellent

Repellents which contain 50% DEET are the best for most pests. Make sure you reapply often.

7. Antiseptic liquid and cream

To clean and dress wounds and insect bites.

8. Tweezers

Essential for removing splinters that aren’t embedded, and ticks (with these, make sure you latch onto the head and don’t just pull off the body). Read more about prevention and treatment of tick bites.

9. Small scissors

You’ll need them to cut bandages. They’re also useful for trimming nails if you stub a toe or tear a fingernail.

10. Cooling spray or gel

To reduce pain and inflammation, muscle strains and sprains should be cooled as quickly as possible. You probably won’t have ice or a cold pack to hand, but you can carry a cooling spray or gel. Check the instructions as some are not suitable for young children — in this case, a damp cloth or towel will help. Strap the injury with elasticated bandaging, then elevate and rest it as much as possible for 48 hours.

11. Painkillers

Ibuprofen is a versatile painkiller which provides relief from sunburn, bites, injuries and any aches but do not give it to children who suffer from asthma. As it’s also anti-inflammatory, it’s particularly useful for muscle sprains. Paracetamol is not anti-inflammatory but it does reduce fever. Young children are more likely to accept liquids or lozenges. Make sure you don’t exceed the recommended dose. Ibuprofen can be used in babies from 3 months but is not recommended for anyone with asthma. Paracetamol syrups can be used for infants from the age of 2 months and tablets for children aged from 6 years.

12. Antihistamines

Oral antihistamines are useful for helping to calm allergies and insect bites, though some of these can cause drowsiness. Topical antihistamines, which are applied to the skin, are not recommended.

13. Hydrocortisone cream

Also known as corticosteroid cream, this over-the-counter cream provides rapid relief from insect bites and stings as well as prickly heat rash. But it is not suitable for children aged under 10, unless on a doctor’s advice.

14. Rehydration salts

Usually a combination of sugar and salts, rehydration salts are available in convenient sachets. They help ensure rehydration after vomiting, diarrhoea or heat exhaustion. Do note that with heat stroke or exhaustion it’s also important to cool the patient as quickly as possible.

15. Aloe vera

Gels made from aloe vera retain skin moisture, so they are useful to ease the pain and tightness of sunburn. Aloe vera gels can also help relieve dry, itchy skin and promote wound healing. Look for one which is at least 95% aloe vera. Moisturisers with aloe won’t have the same effect.

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