3 Summer Safety Reminders: What to Pack in Your First-Aid Kit to Prevent Bug Bites, Sunburns, Rashes, And More

Summer is here and with it comes more glorious time spent outside in the sunshine. But it can also come with bug bites, rashes, sunburns, blisters, and scratches. Luckily, there are a few items you can pack in a first-aid kit to ensure your summer spent outdoors is a safe one.

For Preventing & Treating Bug Bites: Pack Anti-Allergy Medications, Hydrocortisone Cream, & Insect Repellent

When it comes to bug bites some people get bit all over and hardly react while others will have enormous, and tremendously ITCHY welts. There truly are people who are mosquito-bite sensitive and people who are not. If you do get bit and experience discomfort or itchiness, it’s safe to use as directed an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-allergy medication, such as one that contains the active ingredient diphenhydramine, to help you find relief. It’s also safe to use an OTC hydrocortisone cream or ointment on bites that aren’t scratched open or raw.

To help prevent bug bites, I recommend using an insect repellent (many safe choices, see below!) and wearing long sleeves when possible. Just makes things easier. But having grown up in the Midwest (a mosquito haven), I am aware that sometimes bugs can even bite through clothes! Some insects are also more active in the evenings after the heat of the midday sun is gone. To protect yourself while inside your home, you should fix broken screens on doors and windows, especially in rooms where you and your family sleep. Lastly, avoid using fragrant shampoo and perfumes that sometimes attract insects!

What to Know About Insect Repellent: 

  • Don’t use it with infants under 2 months of age.
  • Only apply it to healthy skin (avoid open scratches or wounds) and it IS okay to apply on the outside of clothes.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents, which means they have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness. Reapply insect repellent every few hours as directed on the bottle.
  • Use a repellent that contains DEET, which is safe to use as directed and VERY effective at keeping insects away. The best protection comes from a repellant that contains 30% DEET.
  • Don’t use combination products (i.e. products that contain sunscreen and an insect repellent) — the intervals of reapplication are different. If you plan to use both, put on sunscreen first, then apply the bug repellent.
  • Additional information about insect repellents is available on HealthyChildren.org.

To Protect Your Skin from The Sun: Pack Broad Spectrum Sunscreen

Use broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. As a reminder UVA rays cause aging of the skin and UVB rays cause burns. Sunscreen isn’t the BEST protector for our skin– the shade is. But we know that being outdoors in the sunshine is the essence of summer. Consider using sun protective clothing like long-sleeve “rash guards,” or UV-blocking sunshirts, hats and sunglasses. And try to avoid planning outdoor activities between 10am and 4pm, when the sun is the most intense.

When it comes down to it, the best sunscreen is the one you put on prior to being outside and reapply every couple of hours, so choose a product you like well enough to use! More important than what kind of sunscreen is how you use it. Apply 20 minutes prior to sun exposure and every 1-2 hours while in the water or high activity.

To Treat Cuts, Scrapes, & Blisters: Pack OTC Topical Antibiotic Ointments, Bandages, & Pain Relievers

After a fall or injury, the first thing you should do is clean any cuts or scrapes immediately with water. Rather than soaking, let water run over and through a cut or abrasion to irrigate it. There’s no need to use hydrogen peroxide, iodine or an iodine-containing cleanser, which can be irritating to tissue already injured. Water is a safer bet for cleaning out the wound. Tap water is safe (you don’t need sterile water) and the pressure from a faucet can sometimes really help irrigate a cut or abrasion very well. Consider irrigating the cut or scrape for 3-5 minutes. Tap water that is tepid tends to be the least irritating. After the cut or scrape is clean, cover it up with an OTC topical antibiotic ointment and repeat the application of the ointment about 2 or 3 times daily with a loose bandage for the first couple days.

And for the regular aches and pains associated with illness and injury it’s also wise to keep OTC ibuprofen and acetaminophen in your first-aid kit. Remember to keep the dosing device with the medicine!

Wendy Sue L. Swanson, MD, MBE

Meet Our Experts

Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D.

KnowYourOTCs.org Blogger Ambassador and Medical Adviser

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, is a pediatrician, mother to two young boys, and the author of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Seattle Mama Doc Blog, the first pediatrician-authored blog for a major children's hospital. She is regularly quoted as an expert for The New York Times, USA Today, and the TODAY show. She works diligently to offer parents relevant, practical, and timely health information, and she believes that a growing community of online physicians can empower parents and patients to make informed decisions based on science. Her book, Mama Doc Medicine, was recognized as a Gold Award Recipient by the Mom’s Choice Awards. Dr. Swanson is also the founder and executive director of Digital Health at Seattle Children’s. She is an executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media and is on the boards of both Parents magazine and the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. A practicing pediatrician with The Everett Clinic, Dr. Swanson is also an advocate on the topic of vaccines and was named a CDC Childhood Immunization Champion in 2012. She was named to TIME Magazine's Best Twitter Feeds of 2013. She can be found on Twitter (@SeattleMamaDoc) and Facebook.